On Friday the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) Court ruled that the University of Oslo is not entitled to earmark posts for women in order to get more female professors. The earmarking of posts means that women gain an advantage, which the court considered unacceptable. Free competition is a fundamental principle in the EU's Single Market, and this principle must have precedence over the wish to have more female professors at Oslo university, the Court ruled. Currently, only 13 per cent of professors at the university are female. For a long period gender-based quota restrictions were used as a means of getting more women into higher ranking scientific posts, but the use of quotas did not have the desired effect. Then the college board decided, in its plan of action for 2000-2004, to earmark a few posts for women as one of several new means to improve women's representation at the University of Oslo.

Losing radical tool
The ruling was expected by the rector of University of Oslo, Arild Underdal. "Unless the Norwegian authorities decide to defy the rule, we have lost one of our most radical tools to achieve equal opportunities for professors at the University," he said to Uniforum. Currently eight chairs at the Univeristy are earmarked for female professors, while another three seats were to come. The EFTA court decision has brought a halt to this.

Monitors the single market
The EFTA Court operates in parallel to the European Court of Justice. It has jurisdiction with regard to EFTA States which are parties to the European Economic Area Agreement (at present Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway). It monitors the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital; to provide equal conditions of competition and to abolish discrimination on grounds of nationality in all 18 EEA States – the 15 EU States and 3 of the EFTA States.
PDF Document EFTA Court ruling

This year in Turkey "there will be no instances of torture, no misbehaving of policemen and no violations of human rights" according to Murat Mercan the Vice-Chairman and founder of Turkey's ruling AKP. Underlining the recently elected AKP's determination to fulfil the criteria for joining the European Union, Mr Mercan said his party would move towards a "more democratic, more free and more stable Turkey." This was not the only reason for the promise, "This is not for the sake of the EU but because this country deserves it," said the Vice-Chairman.

Problems remain
However, acknowledging the problems faced by the government in controlling the behaviour of the police and army, Mr Mercan added that "if there is, then our prosecutors we will go after them." This move comes after Turkey, last year, introduced a series of reforms including the abolition of the death penalty during peace time and increased freedoms for the use of non-Turkish languages. The Commission - in their regular report on Turkey's progress EU membership– concluded last October that Turkey had made "some progress" toward fulfilling the human rights criteria for membership. At the Copenhagen summit in December, EU leaders agreed to assess Turkey's membership bid on the basis of the Commission's report for 2004.

Hoping for progress
"Our intention is to fulfil the Copenhagen Criteria even before 2004… we hope for a better report in 2003" Mr Mercan told journalists, "We may ask for our position to be re-evaluated at the December summit." Commission officials have welcomed this move and said that they would be continually monitoring the situation. Despite "considerable progress" the Commission is still looking at the use of minority languages in Turkey, application of European Court of Justice rulings, the question of Cyprus, the role of the Army on Turkey's powerful National Security Council and the inconsistent application of law across the country. Human rights groups such as Amnesty International have repeatedly reported instances of torture, rape, extrajudicial executions and 'disappearances' within Turkey.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said he may have to re-examine the UK's commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights if his government's policies to stop illegal immigrants from entering the country failed. Mr Blair said there was "absolutely no doubt at all we have to deal with this issue", describing the present situation as "unacceptable". He said the government would push through new measures to stem the flow of illegal immigrants in the UK if they were needed. But Mr Blair said the key to solving the problem was to "substantially" reduce the number of applicants because under the convention asylum seekers cannot be removed to a country where they might be subjected to torture. He said: "The present situation is unacceptable, and we have to deal with it. "I'm under no doubt about that at all, which is why in the past few months we have been working very closely, myself and the home secretary, to take a whole series of new measures. "We passed the legislation last November, that legislation is coming into effect now. It, for example, takes away the automatic right to benefits for asylum seekers..."

The measures include having British immigration officers in ports across France - and in other countries by agreement in the future - to stop people entering the UK illegally, Mr Blair told BBC's Breakfast with Frost. "But if the measures don't work, then we will have to consider further measures, including fundamentally looking at the obligations we have under the Convention on Human Rights." The prime minister added: "The key to this is to get the application numbers substantially down, because the problem with removing people is that, under the obligations we have, you cannot remove someone to a country where they might be subject to torture." Mr Blair did not explain what he meant by a "fundamental look" at Britain's obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Terrible mess
Ministers have in the past considered proposals for limiting the number of asylum seekers the UK accepts each year and requiring applicants to make their initial applications from their home countries and to await decisions there. Article 3 of the Convention outlines the right to freedom from being subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment. A spokeswoman from the Refugee Council said: "That is an absolute right and it can't be derogated from." But Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said ministers should have taken powers to deport people who are a criminal or terrorist threat to the British public and he accused the government of being "weak" with its asylum policies. The government had got itself in a "terrible mess" over the asylum issue which was now "out of control", he said.

"We want to welcome anyone who comes here for genuine political reasons ... but we're not seeing that at the moment," Mr Duncan Smith told Sky News's Sunday with Adam Boulton. "The vast majority who are coming are coming for reasons that are nothing to do with real political persecution - either for economic reasons or as in a smaller number, but a significant number, now for criminal or terrorist reasons." Mr Duncan Smith said: "We have got a problem because we now discover that there are terrorists who have actually used the asylum system to come to the UK and, it appears, to operate from here." But this prompted Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrats home affairs spokesman, to retort: "The Conservative leader must not make unfounded claims. "If he has evidence that a large number of asylum seekers coming into Britain are known or suspected terrorists, he should give that information to the authorities and give the facts rather than the hyperbole to the public." Mr Hughes said it would be "quite wrong" to consider reducing the UK's international legal obligations. "We have already pulled out of one of our European human rights obligations, to allow detention of people without trial, when no other European country has seen any need to do this," he said. "The best way forward is improved organisation by the Home Office at home and a European-wide system for dealing with asylum applications." Around 22,560 people applied for asylum in Britain in the third quarter of last year, a record for any three-month period, according to the Home Office. The largest contingent came from Iraq, Zimbabwe and Somalia.
©BBC News

It is time we rebutted the stock-in-trade mendacity of the anti-immigrants
By David Aaronovitch

Three straws in a gale. First, the Labour MP I met on Thursday, who told me that his constituents were 'up in arms' about asylum-seekers, then added: 'But we don't have any asylum-seekers in my constituency, or anywhere in the area.' On the same day, the BNP, with 29 per cent of the vote, won a council by-election in the Mixenden ward of Halifax. And on Wednesday, I got my copy of Prospect magazine, carrying a long article by the former Marxist economist, Bob Rowthorn, headlined 'In Defence of Fortress Europe', and arguing that mass immigration is of little economic benefit, while being a threat to the identity of Britain as a nation. I feel the shadows closing in. In Sittingbourne on Friday night, 2,000 residents, interlaced with members of the BNP, turned up at a meeting called by the council to discuss the establishment of short-term accommodation for asylum-seekers undergoing induction. Many accused asylum-seekers of high levels of criminality, of wanting to poison the water supply, of depriving British people of health facilities, of sexually harassing indigenous women and of terrorism. What is one to do with such unreason?

Rationalise it, according to Bob Rowthorn. Because what is going on here is, he argues, understandable. The insurgent citizenry of the northern towns and Kentish ports are 'raising, albeit often in a xenophobic form, issues of community, identity and self-determination that should concern all democrats'. And even their xenophobia is not, he suggests, completely irrational. First, there is the issue of numbers. Rowthorn seems to buy into the calculations produced by the journalist Anthony Browne and the organisation, Immigration Watch, which famously suggest that we are adding a city the size of Cambridge every six months. By extrapolating forward from today's high figures, and making all kinds of assumptions about rates of return of refugees, future birth rates (all these assumptions tend to boost the figures), Browne et al paint a picture of a vastly increased British population come 2050. Or, as Browne has put it, 'an unprecedented and sustained wave of immigration_ utterly transforming the society in which we live against the wishes of the majority of the population, damaging quality of life and social cohesion, exacerbating the housing crisis and congestion, and with questionable economic benefits'.

The problem for people like me is that while there are good reasons to believe that Browne's figures are inflated, there is the possibility that they may not be. So I need my own figures and then, to answer the next question, how much does it matter? Let us first agree, as Rowthorn does, that there is no greater propensity among immigrants towards crime, pros titution and anti-social behaviour than among the population at large. But what about economic factors? Here there is the sharpest possible debate. Rowthorn believes that 'immigration on a modest scale brings benefits in the form of diversity and new ideas', but beyond that he says that the benefits cease, agreeing with Browne that we do not need immigrants to replace an ageing work force. There are plenty of economists and experts who would dispute this analysis, but Rowthorn does not mention them, instead adding some remarkable problems of his own. Like this. 'Too much reliance on immigration,' he writes, 'may remove the incentive to educate the domestic population and develop its entrepreneurial capacities.' I note the plausible 'may' here, but is Rowthorn really suggesting that one of the problems with immigrants is how much better they are than us? The logic of this would be to admit only stupid, feckless ones, thereby forcing us to educate our indigenous workforce and make James Dysons out of them.

You can't help feeling that Rowthorn is arguing backwards from his true posi tion, as Browne certainly does (and maybe as I do). Which is that the cohesiveness of nation and community is threatened by mass immigration. If such immigration continues, says Rowthorn, Britain will 'soon contain a very large number who have no personal connection with the fairly recent past and feel neither pride nor shame in this past'. This has already happened to an extent, because 'the presence of ethnic minorities has made it more difficult to teach a coherent national history'. We will lose that which binds us together, our sense of nationhood, for 'a nation is a community and, to some extent, exclusive. Its members share a sense of common identity and share moral obligations with each other'. It is a legitimate feeling of loss, he implies, which gives rise to xenophobia. Or, to put it another way, the racists are right, but for the wrong reasons. Rowthorn and Browne do not blame immigrants themselves. Instead, Rowthorn fingers a shadowy 'cosmopolitan elite', which rides roughshod over the ordinary folk by attempting to 'refashion' national identity 'to accord with its own vision of how the world should be'. Rowthorn is not just vague on who this cosmopolitan elite is, but allows the reader complete latitude to construct his or her own. Freemasons perhaps, or Jews, or New Labour, or Guardian readers or, more likely, irritating fellow dons at high table.

Whatever this elite is, I suppose I join it when I say that Rowthorn's definition of nation is just piety masquerading as analysis (has he even read Linda Colley?), and his suggestion that mass immigration necessarily undermines a sense of nationhood is completely contradicted by the experience of the United States and Australia. If nationhood is just a series of particularities (eating fish and chips, taking the dog for a walk, knowing who is tenth in line to the throne), then Rowthorn may be right. If it is embodied in values, then he may well be wrong. Let us say that the things that we most value about Britishness are tolerance, free speech, non-violence, a vibrant popular culture, comedy, a belief in fairness, representative democracy and complaining to anyone except the person who has given you offence. Are these necessarily put at risk by high levels of immigration? And are they likely to be better preserved if we become Fortress Britain, repatriating people, turning relatives back at the ports and airports, imprisoning torture victims and refusing facilities to refugees?

Ironically, Rowthorn has also become something of a family-values campaigner and must know that the major causes of upheaval and community disintegration have nothing whatsoever to do with immigration (or, for that matter, with cosmopolitan elites). They have to do with consumerism, feminism, wealth, choice and mobility. Immigration doesn't make us divorce, leave our home towns and villages, drop litter or marry brown people. Nor can the new anti-immigrants solve their moral problems by tacking on to their long and tendentious articles a final paragraph magically invoking a fairer New World Order. You know, the one where things become so wonderful in Somalia that no Somali would want to leave. I'd like to see them explain the consequences of this new order to the ordinary, unemployed folk of Halifax.

There are changes that I'd like to see to the way we handle immigration which might make things easier. Many of them are already being made. The asylum system is, as critics charge, a deception, in which economic migrants are effectively forced to ride on the backs of the one-fifth of applicants who are indeed refugees. By allowing in more economic migrants, we are likely to reduce this problem. People who do come here should be asked to subscribe to certain values and strongly encouraged to learn English. This is just common sense, not a fascist imposition. I also want to see a national ID card instituted. And I want to see those of us who are not prepared to bend before the oncoming storm equipping ourselves with argument and standing to the defences of the country we also love.
©The Guardian

Canvassers admit voter anger at increased council allowances while renegade candidate costs Labour seat in deprived Yorkshire ward

Political alarm bells were ringing across the country yesterday after the British National party's mix of strident racism and pavement politics won the extreme rightwing party its fifth council seat. Cashing in on a sorry history of neglect in one of Yorkshire's most impoverished wards, the group triumphantly forecast more victories at the local elections in three months' time. There was little sign of rampant extremism on the tacky-looking estates of Mixenden, which have the worst of all worlds - multiple deprivation in an isolated valley on the edge of Halifax, with none of the life or convenience of the town centre. A surge in turnout from 24% to 37%, and the Liberal Democrats' leapfrog over Labour into second place, convinced everyone the result was largely a two-fingers reaction to those who had held power and influence too long. The BNP's new councillor, Adrian Marsden, 42, spent the day playing exactly those I'll- shake-'em-up cards, repeatedly flagging his local credentials. He was hugely helped during the campaign, for which the BNP produced eight separate leaflets and a video, by the fact that Labour's sitting councillor had been disqualified for failing to attend meetings - he has been unwell but did not resign. Sidelining his past links with Combat 18, the violent neo-Nazi group, Mr Marsden basked in his CV as a local man - 18 years in Halifax, with seven children whose future lay in the hands of local schools. "People can link me to whoever they want but the people in Halifax know who I am and what I stand for," he said. "I ran my campaign on the real issues which concern the people in the Mixenden ward."

Memories of the Ridings disaster - when a high school near Mixenden was branded the worst in the country after pupils all but revolted - were also prodded by BNP activists during the campaign. Labour's candidate, Michael Higgins, chaired the local Calderdale council's education committee at the time. After the result, BNP supporters paraded around streets close to the town hall singing Rule Britannia. But yesterday, after a briefing from party officials, Mr Marsden denied holding racist views and said he was "a local issues man." Labour strategists, whose computerised canvassing was blinded by the turnout of voters who previously had not bothered, agreed with Marsden on the killer issue that let him squeak to victory by 28 votes. Doorstep reaction, they said, had been particularly fierce about the council's decision to increase travel and attendance allowances. The home secretary, David Blunkett, called the election "very worrying indeed". "I have said there is a real problem, that the people do not believe and do not feel that their concerns are being addressed," he said. "We need to persuade people that the solution cannot be answered by these far rightwing groups and that the answers they are putting forward are dangerous."

The Labour MP for Halifax, Alice Mahon, yesterday played down the significance of the result. She emphasised that only one in 10 people in Mixenden had backed the BNP in a poll which saw Labour only 10 votes behind Liberal Democrat Stephen Pearson and 142 votes lost to a renegade, former Labour councillor, Redmond Mellett. "Halifax is a great town and its people are not racist," she said. "Everyone knows where the BNP are coming from and we will fight them and tell people what their true policies are. They may dress in nice smart suits but underneath them they are the same ugly human beings we remember from the second world war, trying to bring division." Leaders of the other parties held an emergency meeting yesterday, as doctors, Calderdale's mayor and other community figures signed a petition condemning racism. But Labour has also begun an inquest on how a clearly vulnerable target for extremists was allowed to become vacant. The victory follows an unexpected BNP gain in Blackburn in November and the party's build-up of three council seats in Burnley. In Yorkshire an assault on Halifax and Bradford last May, which tried to capitalise on the Bradford riots of 2001, was fended off.
©The Guardian

There is now a thriving group of pedlars selling anti-immigration theories and sinister 'research'
By Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

I am not going to lose any sleep over the BNP winning its fifth seat in local elections. The happy winner of 679 votes in Mixenden, Yorkshire – Adrian Marsden – was once a strident member of Combat 18, the violent neo-Nazi group which threatens to kill, among others, black British sports stars who have the impudence to win medals for their country. But the BNP is only a useful distraction, just as the National Front was in the Seventies when Margaret Thatcher was ripping to shreds all ideas of social justice and equality. Oh yes, everyone from right to left will wholeheartedly and piously agree that this is a very poor show indeed and that the BNP is very wicked. But this moral chorus is a cover, a fig leaf. The denouncers of the BNP are worthy people, yet at the same time they hold views on immigration and asylum-seekers which I find to be quite repugnant. Others do nothing while the country slides into a more hate-filled place than it was during the days of Enoch Powell. Many of them are shameless too. They come up to me at parties – usually where there are hardly any other black or Asian invitees, which makes them believe, perhaps, that I am an honorary white – and discuss their anxieties that the national identity of this country cannot tolerate any more immigrant invasions. They regurgitate old civil- disorder arguments (echoing the discredited views of duplicitous politicians, past and present) that if we let in too many "ethnic minorities" True Brits cannot be blamed for rising against the incomers. Honestly, the number of canapés I have choked over recently. Do these appeasers not understand that for inconsolable small-minded nationalists, one black immigrant is one too many?

We have seen this before. These are the folk who rushed to enlist with the right-wing warriors who rose to fight against "political correctness", defined by them as any idea or policy that challenged the status quo. Today the same people appear to have found a new freedom, permission to express their distaste for the multi-racial Britain which they used to pretend to adore. Do they not understand that this nation has a restless soul which has forever sought diversity? The making and remaking of any nation is not an easy task, and you need real guts and conviction to press on with it. This country has never appreciated the extraordinary contributions of immigrants, the true stories about our collective histories, the need to make a new social contract between all the citizens and the state so that we know what we stand for. Admittedly these are very hard times for black and white Britons with enlightened views on immigration and our national identity. Too many immigrants and their children are giving succour to racists by rejecting the best of British ideals, democracy for one. If I were a white pensioner living on a street in Bradford where Asian men, braggarts and brawlers, pimps and dealers, had taken over, of course I would reach out for the meanest part of me and hate the whole lot of them. The endless stories of Albanian and Turkish warring gangs; of black men and gun crimes; of hideously deformed (in their heads more than their limbs) mullahs who think they have the right to incite, in the house of God, young Muslim men to hate; and Algerians accused of making poisons and killing policemen, have created a new anger and hostility to our presence across British society.

Many of these anti-social activities are or have been carried out by white people, but it is always worse when non-white people are accused in a world where white power dominates. That does not make any of the above right or understandable. Criminals and zealots need to be condemned and I do that every day. But what I will not do is then make the reprehensible leap into the laps of those who hate all black and Asian immigration. A thriving group of peddlers is now selling anti-immigration theories, rhetoric and sinister "research" to a receptive media. They can say the things that a nice BBC chap should never be heard saying. Whom do I mean? Why that Anthony Browne, previously a journalist who once so misrepresented my views on the "dangers" of rapidly reproducing black and Asian Britons (you know us, we unstoppable sex-and-birth machines) that I had to correct him on BBC Radio 4's Today programme. Did I know then that he would soon become a guru promoting the fantasies of MigrationWatch, a unit of like-minded xenophobes? Then there is Bob Rowthorn, the economist who believes that immigrants ruin the nation's sense of itself and are too clever, providing a little too much competition for the natives who simply give up on their entrepreneurial capacities. David Goodhart, the editor of Prospect magazine, agrees, he tells me, with much of this: "Any national community has an obligation to control the numbers and types of people coming in." And the leader most enamoured of these new prophets is David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, who demands that black Britons should learn to behave like good little guests in his country.

I forgot to mention the celebrities – people like Stella McCartney and Toyah Wilcox – who have been supporting protests against centres for asylum-seekers. They may have had worthy reasons in their particular cases, but bit by bit the idea grows that these voiceless people, most of them unbelievably poor or damaged, are demons. An even greater failure besmirches the fight of the just and the good for heterogeneity and equality. They have allowed the mainstream right to whip up the nationalist hysteria that is now resulting in a life of hell for refugees, asylum-seekers and economic migrants. They should be more robust in arguing for a properly managed economic migration, but instead they tremble when challenged. The polemicist Melanie Phillips says that the recently arrested terrorists are asylum-seekers. Does that mean all asylum-seekers are terrorists? Other beraters of asylum-seekers include Brian Sewell, Richard Littlejohn (whose television programmes I will not touch on – I would rather sit on blocks of dry ice) and Gary Bushell; and media proprietors such as Richard Desmond whose daily attacks on refugees in the Daily Express are more pornographic than any naked breasts in his dirty magazines. Why this abysmal capitulation? Why is the BBC not asking Mr Blunkett again and again why he is deporting three-quarters of the Iraqis applying for asylum on the grounds that Iraq is safer than they claim?

The manufacturing of anti-asylum prejudice can be challenged. Look at Marie Claire this month. It has a six-page feature on the lives of three asylum-seekers, plus facts which you rarely see: that nine European countries take more refugees than we do and that asylum-seekers live on £38 per week. We need our mainstream novelists and playwrights to move their eyes from the First World War and tell us stories of these new human tragedies right here in our backyards. In Stephen Frears' shattering film Dirty Pretty Things, the hero, an African refugee doctor played by the phenomenal Chiwetel Ejiofor, says something like: "But we are the ones who clean your hotels and your hospitals... You don't see us, you don't want to." It is this unwillingness to see and speak that is the greatest danger, not the pitiful BNP.
© Independent Digital

At the Shariah court of appeals here, the chief judge presiding over the case of Amina Lawal, the peasant woman sentenced to death by stoning for having slept with a man who was not her husband, refused to comment on the guilt or innocence of the defendant before him. It was "sub juris" - still pending - the judge explained, relying on the Latin he had learned in law school. But his opinion on the matter of fornication was unambiguous. "The best deterrent is the death sentence, for people to see what happens to a fornicator," said Grand Khadi Aminu Ibrahim Katsina. "They watch you be stoned to death. They wouldn't want it to happen to them. So it definitely would be a deterrent." Whether Lawal will meet such a fate is yet to be decided. Seeking justice, she had come Thursday morning to the grand khadi's courtroom, the highest Islamic court in the land. But justice was put off for another day. After less than 10 minutes of legal niceties, the five-man panel of judges adjourned the case for two months.

For Lawal, 30 - illiterate, unemployed and rocking Wasila, the 1-year-old product of her adulterous union, in her arms - death was no more near or far. The verdict, when it does come, holds enormous significance, not for Lawal alone but for the future of Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, which is on the verge of tearing apart along Muslim-Christian lines. Even though Nigeria is technically a secular democracy, Shariah, or Islamic law, has swept through its northern, largely Muslim states over the last three years. It has emerged as a bellwether issue in the elections approaching in April. President Olusegun Obasanjo, a Christian southerner responsible for holding together this country of 130 million, has had to walk a delicate political line on the matter. The case of Lawal, in particular, has drawn international reproach. But Thursday morning, sitting in his chambers, the grand khadi was impassive. "This case is an ordinary case," he said. "It is as simple as drinking water."

If the Shariah court of appeals here ultimately upholds the verdict of the lower courts, Lawal would be the first Nigerian to be executed under the Islamic code. It would be likely to inflame religious passions in this country as well as to bring the country's guarantee of states' rights into conflict with its constitutional ban on capital punishment. From this courtroom, the case can proceed to a federal non-Shariah court and ultimately to the Nigerian Supreme Court. Obasanjo has already said the Nigerian Constitution would see to it that Lawal's life was spared. Her story goes like this. She was a divorced woman living in her father's house in Kurami, a village roughly 90 minutes from here, when someone reported to the authorities that she had borne a child out of wedlock. She confessed, but not much of a confession was needed. A newborn girl served as proof of her crime. The man she identified as the father of her child denied the charge. He swore on the Koran, and that was that. The court judged him innocent. To prove his guilt under Koranic law would require testimonies of four witnesses to the fornication itself. No one suggested DNA tests.

Shariah governs family law in a wide range of countries, but it has been applied to criminal offenses only in a handful of states, such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and - most visibly to the rest of the world - in Afghanistan when it was under Taliban rule. In Nigeria, 12 of the country's 36 states have put Shariah into effect since 1999, though the code does not apply to Christians living in those states. Shariah governs everything from prayers and meals to custody battles and sexual behavior. Cynics see the Shariah wave as nothing more than a way for northern Muslim politicians to score cheap points. Proponents insist that it is a far better alternative to the common law that British rulers imposed. Shariah, they say, is fairer, swifter and God-given. The chief prosecutor of Katsina state, Solicitor General Hamza Kurfi, went as far as to call it "a dividend of democracy." "The people asked for it," he said. "The government is doing the bidding of the people."

The Shariah court here, not much older than Lawal's baby girl, is an odd experiment, cobbling together the customs of British law and the tenets of Islamic law. The courtroom is a former state government building, newly painted sea blue. Alone, Lawal sat on the edge of a bench in the far right of the courtroom. For much of the proceedings, her baby slumbered against her back, head falling to the right, mouth wide open. Under her sentence, Lawal is to be stoned to death in a public square when the child is weaned, this time next year. As unkind as death by stoning might seem, the grand khadi said, such a punishment is necessary to uphold the sanctity of marriage. Under God's law, he said, marriage was created for a reason: to produce children one can call one's own. "Islamic law prescribes that adultery and fornication are offenses that carry punishment," he explained. "If this girl were a spinster, if she had never married, they would never sentence her to death. They would sentence her to 100 lashes of the cane." Lawal's lawyer, Aliyu Musa Yawuri, plans to raise some technicalities in his appeal March 25. It may be a matter of hours, or months, until the five-man panel issues its decision.

Lawal is prepared to wait until the case makes its way up the legal ladder, all the way up to the Supreme Court. Her legal team will push on her behalf, she said, and in the end, God will provide. "I have committed everything in the hands of God," she said. She had nothing to say about the pros and cons of Shariah. She did not want to talk about the confession that landed her in this mess. What did she want for her daughter? "Even though her destiny is in the hands of God," she said, "I would like for her to be a lawyer."
©International Herald Tribune

Venus and Serena Williams had won their sixth Grand Slam doubles title several hours before and were already preparing to face each other in a record fourth consecutive Grand Slam singles final. But their mother and coach, Oracene Price, who has reverted to her maiden name since her divorce from Richard Williams last year, sounded more disappointed than elated - not by her daughters' play or achievements but by the public reaction to their dominance in Australia and elsewhere. The Williams sisters had never played in a final at the Australian Open, yet there was a palpable sense of resistance in the stands of Melbourne Park to the idea of a fourth straight all-Williams final in a major, with Serena's and Venus's victories greeted in generally subdued fashion by the crowd, even with occasional boos. Price believes there is more behind the ambivalence than just a craving for something new and a desire to support the underdog, which at this stage in women's tennis, is anyone not named Williams. "They seem to accept Tiger a little better than the girls, you know what I'm saying?" she said, referring to the world's dominant golfer, Tiger Woods. "He's a man." She added, "They don't need women showing so much strength or how powerful they can be or how they can think." Price said she believed that there was also a racial component at work, suggesting that there were no complaints when Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert were dominating women's tennis to much the same degree as her daughters do now.

"I don't quite understand that, because I've seen in the past with the same people getting into the same position, and it wasn't that big an issue," she said of public resistance to all-Williams finals. "I don't know really what the deal on that is," she said. "I guess it's because the environment of tennis has mostly been white. Especially over here in a culture where you see that people have conquered other people who were indigenous to this country. And the same thing in the United States. And I think it's a bit of arrogance, more or less - who has to be on top and who has to be on the bottom." Asked if she sensed that attitude in the stadium here, Price said she did. "Especially when you have an audience this gloomy," she said. "I guess they feel you can get to the semifinals but you don't need to win it. We'll give you a hand then and go, 'Yeah. Great game.' But we don't want you on top. I think that's just the arrogance of the people, and you know I think they need to grow up." Price's reaction was triggered in part by the crowd's behavior in Rod Laver Arena during Serena's remarkable comeback from two match points down in the semifinals to defeat Kim Clijsters of Belgium. Clijsters, a sunny 19-year-old who dates the Australian tennis star Lleyton Hewitt, is increasingly popular in Australia and was clearly the sentimental favorite during the match. But the crowd's favoritism intensified after Serena, who has won the last three Grand Slam singles titles, took two consecutive injury time-outs when trailing,1-2, in the final set to have blisters treated on her right foot.

Rebound Ace, the rubberized hardcourt surface used in Melbourne, is particularly punishing on players' feet, more so when the temperatures rise. One of Serena's blisters developed in her three-set, first-round match against Emilie Loit of France and had to be lanced afterward. It began bothering her again in the Clijsters match, and according to Price, was adversely affecting her movement. The punctured blister certainly looked painful when television cameraman showed footage of it as the trainer unwrapped the tape on Serena's right foot. But the crowd could not see that image, and many of the fans in Rod Laver Arena interpreted her consecutive injury time-outs as an attempt to break Clijsters's rhythm. There was whistling and booing when Serena returned to the court, and the crowd roared when Serena missed a return on the first point and the next point had to be replayed after spectators shouted during the rally. Clijsters and her coach, Marc Dehous, both said they had no problem with Serena's seeking treatment at that stage of the match. Clijsters, after all, did win the next three games to take a 5-1 lead before Serena raised her game and intensity. But Dehous said he understood the booing. Serena has acquired a reputation on tour for making excuses in defeat, and Dehous alluded to her comments after Clijsters beat her in the final of last year's WTA Tour Championships in Los Angeles.

"Even after the loss in the Masters, Serena said she was feeling tired, but she only played 13 tournaments last year," Dehous said. "So maybe they are a little bit the cause of that themselves," he said of the sisters and the booing, "because of what they say and how they act." Asked what might could the public's attitude, Price said, "I don't think anything can change it. Because people have to change here," she said, pointing to her heart. "And if they don't change there, there's nothing you can do about it. We just have to live with it. We've been living with it all our lives, so it's no big deal."
©International Herald Tribune

Horst Mahler, a former Marxist urban guerrilla and lawyer for the Red Army Faction, now represents the extreme right National Democratic Party. But the virulence of his views has not diminished, and his outspoken comments on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States have landed him back where he was decades ago - in court. Last week, Mahler went on trial here on charges of approving of crimes and inciting violence, and he could face three years in jail if convicted. A few weeks after the attacks in 2001, in a broadcast interview with Norddeutscher Rundfunk, the public network in North Germany, he deemed the terrorists' actions justified. "It was frightening but one also had the feeling that at last, finally, they had been hit in the heart," Mahler said then. "And it will certainly make them think. So, I say it was an action that, as cruel as it was, was justified." In other comments in a letter posted on his Web site, Mahler has expressed more strident admiration for the Sept. 11 attacks. "For decades, the jihad - the holy war - has been the agenda of the Islamic world against the Western value system. The Anglo-American and European employees of the global players, dispersed throughout the world are - as Osama bin Laden proclaimed a long while ago - military targets. Only a few need be liquidated in this manner; the survivors will run off like hares into their respective home countries, where they belong."

Mahler, 66, who was once part of the extreme left violently seeking to oppose residual Nazi tendencies in Germany, is now known for anti-Semitic and anti-American rants. In the opening day of his trial, Mahler affirmed the comments about the Sept. 11 attacks but argued that the program's editing took them out of context. In a interview by telephone, he explained, "I stand by what I said, but they cut out some of my other comments in which I said that this is not the way to fight back. The oppressed should win not with war, but with spiritual debate." Hajo Funke, a political scientist at Berlin's Free University, studies rightist extremism and was once a student with Mahler in the 1960s. He said the activist and his party are careful to keep within legal bounds when voicing their views, in part because the party faces a proposed government ban, which it is currently contesting in Germany's constitutional court. "As a lawyer, he knows where the boundaries are and usually disguises his message," Funke said of Mahler.

Last year, Mahler was fined E7,200 ($7,800) in another German court for similar comments about the attacks. In 1974, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for bank robberies in connection with the Red Army Faction terrorist group. By apparently justifying a violent act, Mahler may have violated German law and weakened his party's case. German law limits free speech in cases of incitement and hate. The statutes were strengthened in the 1980s after complaints from Germany's Jewish community that postwar laws were too vague to prosecute neo-Nazis for propaganda, especially Holocaust denials. The constitution also allows the banning of extremist political parties. "These laws arose from the background of Germany's Nazi past and the persecution of the Jews," said Klaus Geppert, professor of law at the Free University. "Because of the German experience, we cannot accept anti-Semitic or racist expression." According to Funke, Mahler's party has won followers by combining anti-Semitism and xenophobia with conspiracy theories about American power. Between 1996 and 2000, party membership grew to 6,500 members from 3,500, particularly from unemployed youth in Eastern Germany.

"Mahler's vision is the most destructive of all of those expressed by German neo-Nazis," Funke said. "This is a confluence of Hitler's anti-Semitism and anti-imperialist nationalism." In the Hamburg court last week, Mahler called the United States, "the bloodiest and most imperialist power the world has ever seen," according to The Associated Press. He also said the attacks were part of an American conspiracy. "It's not true that Al Qaeda had anything to do with it," he said. The comments appeared to reflect an unsettling development in Mahler's ideology. In October, Mahler and his party's leader, Udo Voigt, reportedly attended an event at Berlin's Technical University sponsored by Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamic militant group with 27,000 members in Germany that was recently banned for extremism and spreading anti-Semitic propaganda in universities. For Mahler, making common cause with Islamic groups has some precedent. He and other members of the Red Army Faction received terrorist training in Lebanon in the early 1970s from Al Fatah. Mahler, who is defending his party in court against the government petition for a ban, is not the only former leftist in Germany to have made a political transformation. The German interior minister, Otto Schily, who instigated the government's request, was also a Red Army Faction lawyer and a friend who once represented Mahler while he was a fugitive in the underground.
©International Herald Tribune

Slovakian women say they are being operated on against their will.

Roma, or Gypsy, women in Slovakia claim they are being subjected to forced sterilisation, according to a new report to be launched in Brussels this week. Research by human rights organisations has found evidence strongly suggesting that many hundreds of Roma women could have been sterilised against their will. While sterilisation was used in both the Nazi and Communist eras to curb the Roma population in Europe, there will be deep concern among MPs and MEPs that such practices are continuing in the 21st century, especially in a country that is one of Britain's putative European partners. EU officials have for some time been reporting that Slovakia respects human rights. But, while expressing concerns about the treatment of up to half a million Roma, monitors seem to have been unaware of the scale of the alleged medical crimes against Roma women. Slovak, Czech and US researchers behind the report believe that some medical staff have taken their own measures to limit Roma population growth, while the authorities turn a blind eye.

In a freezing one-room wooden shack in the Roma settlement of Richnova in eastern Slovakia, I met Renata Horthovathova, a 32-year-old mother who went into her local hospital in April last year to have twins by Caesarean section. After the successful operation, Renata and her husband Josef were ecstatic about their new babies. They already had one child and had always wanted more. But five days after the operation, as she packed to go home, she was told by a doctor she must sign a form before leaving. "I told him that a woman leaving hospital doesn't need to sign a form," Renata recalls. "But he told me that I must sign because I had been sterilised, and I would not be having any more children. I was shocked. Then I got angry. I asked him how he dare do something like that when I hadn't even asked for it." She showed me her hospital discharge form, which my translator confirmed contained the medical phrase for sterilisation.

In the same settlement, a 19-year-old mother alleged she too had been sterilised without her consent during a Caesarean operation two years ago. Ingrid Ginova looks little more than a child herself, but her child-bearing life is already over. She says she only learned of the sterilisation five days after it had happened, when complications set in and she was transferred to hospital in Kosice. "A doctor checked me. He told me that my tubes were tied, that I was sterilised and I would have no more children." Ingrid and Renata were among 230 women who gave testimony to a team of eight lawyers and researchers visiting 40 Roma settlements in Slovakia last summer. The team's co-ordinator, Christina Zampas, of the Centre for Reproductive Rights based in New York, says that 110 of the mothers interviewed said they had been sterilised without consent, or without full consent. "We met women who, while they were on the operating table, were told to sign a consent form," said Ms Zampas. "The testimony we found was disturbingly consistent. It's appalling that this is happening in Europe in 2003."

At Krompachy hospital, where Ingrid and Renata had their Caesareans, the head of the baby unit denied the allegations. Dr Jan Kralik insisted that no women had had their tubes tied against their will since he had become head of obstetrics in 1996. But he said he feared a Roma population explosion. When I raised the cases of the two women, he said: "It probably happened at another place." The human rights team obtained power of attorney from some of the women to view their medical records. But most hospitals refused access. Ms Zampas said: "The authorities must hand over these records. If they do not ... it's a clear indication they have something to hide. Because of the severity of these human rights violations Slovakia needs to address these issues. If it decides not to, international bodies will." Human rights groups are now preparing a number of court cases, and warn that if they fail in Slovakia's courts they will take them to the European Court of Human Rights. When suspicions of forced sterilisation were aireda year ago, the government in Bratislava shrugged them off and demanded firm evidence. Now, with the evidence and with all eyes on entry to the EU, they may have a much bigger problem on their hands.
© Independent Digital

French civil rights groups expressed indignation Sunday at a new law which would make it a criminal offence to boo the Marseillaise or insult the country's national symbols. An amendment to the centre-right government's crime bill currently going through parliament, the measure was approved without a vote on Thursday and would send offenders to jail for six months or slap them with a 7,500 euro (8,140 dollar) fine. "This all stems from a concept of identity which is totally narrow-minded and brings us back to the time of the military courts trying people for insulting the flag," said Daniel Joseph, president of the French Union of Lawyers. "It is total confusion. They are making a penal issue of a problem of moral order," he said. Michel Tubiana, president of the League of Human Rights, said the law indicated "an erroneous definition of collective identity. This is not the way establish respect for shared values."

The law, which will make punishable "actions which constitute an attack on the respect due to the tricolour flag or the national anthem," was prompted by crowds boo-ed and whistled the Marseillaise at two football matches. In October 2001 then prime minister Lionel Jospin, a socialist, was gravely embarrassed at a match between France and Algeria when crowds of young French Arabs interrupted the national anthem and later invaded the pitch. The episode was seized on by the right -- then in opposition -- as a signal of the government's feebleness on law-and-order issues and played an important part in President Jacques Chirac's re-election in May. Chirac himself reacted with fury a few days after his victory when he attended a cup final at which supporters of the Corsican club Bastia whistled the Marseillaise. Storming out of the VIP box, he said, "I will not tolerate and I will not accept this kind of attack on the essential values of the republic."
©The Tocqueville Connection

Tories are secretly orchestrating opposition to an asylum accommodation centre in the back yard of the shadow home secretary, Oliver Letwin, as the Conservatives prepare today to unveil plans to lock up all new asylum seekers while they are given security clearance. Leaked emails, written on Sunday, show that Dorset Conservatives are even prepared to take part in "disruptive direct action blockades" in order "to remain 'well in' with" local campaigners against Home Office plans for an asylum accommodation centre in Portland. The Tory leader, Iain Duncan Smith, is to announce a new hardline Conservative asylum policy today. He is expected to stress that the security checks will be carried out quickly, efficiently and in secure conditions. "No one should be allowed on our streets unless we are satisfied they pose no threat to other users of our streets," he will say. Only last week Mr Letwin told the Guardian he was critical of a policy to lock up all asylum seekers, fuelling speculation that he had been overruled. But last night he admitted that holding asylum seekers in secure centres "at this dangerous point in our history" could now be justified.

The leaked email from Ed Matts, Conservative candidate for Dorset South - Britain's most marginal Labour seat - was sent to Dorset Tories and to Mr Letwin, who is MP for neighbouring West Dorset, at his office at Rothschilds bank. It makes clear that they are heavily involved behind the scenes in the campaign against the Portland asylum centre and are basing their campaign on the fight earlier this month against a similar centre at Sittingbourne, Kent. Mr Matts states that he is keen to show the community that he can recommend "a clear way forward for a campaign" and he says it "would be useful to have one or two of us on the 'team'". The email says: "We do not want (really need) to be party political (because the campaign is against the Labour government) but I want to read out a statement from Oliver Letwin as to the party's position." Mr Matts also suggests using "a possible red herring" to manipulate the local media. In his email he says although the local council has denied that they have been secretly briefed by the Home Office on its plan, this shouldn't stop them running the story. "This doesn't stop us raising this possibility to strengthen the impression the government is being underhand," he writes, going on to say they should be prepared to take part in blockades. "I am not a great fan of disruptive direct action as it only hurts the innocent but we may find it difficult not to take part or sanction," he says, before warning the recipients of his email to be careful because: "one out of context quote can steal headlines, divert the issue and do a lot of damage."

The Tories are anxious not to be accused of fuelling racism or be portrayed as the 'nasty party'. But shadow cabinet sources made it clear last night that they would not allow UK obligations under international human rights conventions to obstruct their new policy.
©The Guardian

In our last issue, we commented on the impropriety of the nomination of Libya to chair the UN Commission on Human Rights (CHR). In this issue, we describe what happened at the one-day CHR session.

Members of the United Nations commission responsible for the promotion and protection of the right to vote were aghast. An election had been called. Press reports on the election of Libya to head the CHR missed the best part of the story: the reaction to an exercise in democracy at the United Nations. An election with a single candidate is not the hallmark of democracy in action, but it sufficed to cause a lot of commotion. The African group, which had nominated Libya, was quite put out by the US move. Given the long history of uncontested elections on that continent, their objection was somewhat surprising. Libya has conducted meaningless single-party elections for over 35 years. What were they worried about? Open debate on Libya's merits was discouraged. "Silence is golden", the outgoing chairman reminded the member-states. While the honorable Polish ambassador was just trying to make the best of a bad situation, his comment was in line with the prevailing mood. The European members couldn't vote for Libya on principle, and wouldn't vote against the African candidate for political reasons. So they abstained.

The voting itself was a sight to behold. A member of the secretariat brought out a wooden ballot box. He walked around the room with the lid open much like a magician at the beginning of his act, showing all present that it was empty. The Sudanese and Syrian ambassadors conferred with each other as the box passed by, probably trying to figure out the purpose of this alien object. Ballots were then passed out to the 53 member states, of whom Freedom House considers 22 "free", 16 "partly free" and 15 "not free." With free countries in the minority, the process fit George Bernard Shaw's definition of democracy: "the substitution of election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few." The Polish ambassador explained in simple terms that only one mark should be made on the ballot: yes, no or abstain. He then repeated his instructions, probably for the benefit of the 15 "not free." The recriminations would have been worse than during the Florida re-count had Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, and their non-democratic friends unwittingly invalidated their ballots and prevented Libya from leading the UN's discussion on human rights.

After the ballot box made its rounds, the Commission's vice-president opened it and started the tally. We then witnessed something new under the sun ­ a Syrian official counting ballots in a free and fair election. No rabbit emerged, in fact there were no surprises at all. Three countries voted against Libya. The United States and Canada had earlier announced their intentions to vote against Libya. They were joined by an anonymous dissenter. Rumors abound that it was Guatemala. Maybe. Guatemala has consistently and vocally objected to the political manipulation of the Commission, but a public stance against Libya might have invited a retaliatory examination of its own imperfect human rights record during the Com mission. It might also have been the Algerian ambassador expressing his indignation at being passed over for the nomination. After taking the chair from the Polish ambassador, the now elected Libyan representative announced that the African group had called for a vote on the candidacy of Australia, the Western group's nomination for vice-president. According to an arranged script, she then requested the African group to withdraw its motion for a vote, saying "we've had enough voting today." The South African ambassador answered that the African group would accede to her request "in the spirit of cooperation." End of the experiment in democracy.

Should elections be held in other UN bodies, who knows what might happen. Iraq might even lose its scheduled presidency later this year of ... (we're not making this up) ... the Conference on Disarmament.
©UN Watch

Vessels from five European Union nations have launched sea patrols in an attempt to combat illegal immigration. The operation, codenamed Ulysses, is aimed at stopping the gangs that bring immigrants on dangerous sea voyages from Africa. "Today we are surely seeing the birth of a common police force for the European Union to protect our borders," Spanish Interior Minister Angel Acebes said on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca. The European Commission estimates that there are nearly three million illegal immigrants in the 15-nation EU. Many are brought by gangs on rickety boats, and bodies are regularly washed up on Spanish and Italian beaches. A Moroccan immigrants' rights group in Spain, ATIME, estimated last year that about 4,000 people had drowned in the Strait of Gibraltar and in the Atlantic between Africa and the Canary Islands since 1997.

Two phases
Six vessels - two Civil Guard patrol boats from Spain, a customs ship from the UK and navy ships from France, Portugal and Italy - are taking part in the pilot scheme. They will be based at Algeciras, Spain. The first phase will target the western Mediterranean from Algeciras to Palermo in Sicily. After 8 February, the patrols will be extended to the Canary Islands. Each ship will be responsible for an area of six square miles (15.5 square kilometres). They will have the power to board any suspect vessels and escort them to the nearest EU port if necessary. Observers from Greece, Norway, Germany, Poland and Austria will also take part in the operation. "This is a project in which, over several days, we are going to test how it is possible to co-ordinate our actions in order to have control over the maritime borders in the Mediterranean," said Mr Acebes. He said it would be a step towards a European-wide frontier police force and "a common area of security, justice and freedom". The EU is considering setting up a European corps of border guards to curb the growing number of illegal immigrants. Tougher measures are being considered to coincide with the EU's proposed expansion eastward that will admit 10 new member states and open new areas for smugglers.
©BBC News

Refugee claim wrong
A local TV report, claiming that a number of employers in the small city of Faaborg, on the island of Funen, had responded to an appeal from the local council by promising employment to 15 newly-arrived refugees, was quickly seized upon by Minister of Refugees, Immigrants and Integration Bertel Haarder as a prime example of what local government can do when it tries. 'Faaborg is proof of what I have been saying for months,' said Haarder. 'Many local councils are happy to sit back and hand out social benefits to immigrants, but are less enthusiastic about sniffing out jobs for them.' Unfortunately, Haarder was left with a certain amount of egg on his face at the end of last week, when none of the immigrants were actually offered jobs. Local Director of Social Affairs, Dorte Dabelsteen, said Haarder had been far too quick off the mark. 'None of the potential employers were interested as soon as they realised that the refugees couldn't understand Danish, and that they would have to be paid normal union-agreed rates and not lower state-subsidised wages,' said Dabelsteen. 'In fact, I can quite honestly say that not one immigrant has ever found work in Faaborg, so I don't understand what Haarder is talking about,'

Commies preferred over Nazis
A new survey reveals that the public has far greater antipathy towards the extreme-right than the extreme-left. Despite the fact that both Communists and Nazis have committed acts of genocide and horrendous crimes against humanity throughout Europe, a new PLS Ramboll survey shows that there is a far greater tolerance of Communists in this country today than Nazis. 69% said they believed it wasn't 'as bad' to be a Communist as it was to be a Nazi, whilst 67% said that Nazis shouldn't be allowed to work in the public sector, although they had nothing against a Communist being employed by the state. Commenting on the survey in Jyllands Posten, Professor Bent Jensen of the University of Southern Denmark, the author of 'Gulags and Oblivion,' a survey of Communist atrocities and the downfall of the Soviet Empire, says the results prove how little the general public, schoolchildren and students have been taught about crimes committed under the name of Communism, even though Communists are guilty of killing far more people than Hitler ever did. 'We hear much, much more about the atrocities of Nazism than Communism, and far more material is available documenting Nazi crimes. Films and the media also show a greater interest in Nazism,' says Jensen, who has previously been outspoken in his criticism of the Danish Centre of Holocaust Research for spending all its time investigating the horrors of Nazism, whilst ignoring Communist atrocities. According to Professor Jensen, the public's attitude is heavily influenced by the German occupation of Denmark during the Second World War, and by vivid accounts of the holocaust, whilst there is very little documentary evidence of Communist crimes. 'After the war, the Soviet Union was extremely successful in shutting out the outside world and suppressing information,' says Jensen. 'In addition, there were Communist sympathisers throughout Europe, and especially in Denmark, where the Danish Communist Party was extremely successful in painting a rosy picture of Soviet-style Communism.'

No Imam plan
The Government has retreated from threats to force many of the country's Imams, into 're-education classes.' After the first meeting of the Ministry of Integration's 'Imam Committee,' and consultations with diverse immigrant organisations, Minister of Integration Bertel Haarder has backed down from his plans to force Imams, Muslim religious teachers, to attend courses on democracy, human rights and Danish culture, a move which was to have been the cornerstone of Prime Minister Anders Fogh New Year offensive against immigrants' 'medieval religious thinking.' According to sources in left-wing daily, Information, the Government no longer believes that courses and information are the correct weapons to use. 'We now believe it's a waste of time trying to preach democracy and Danish culture to Imams, because the majority of them are confirmed opponents of anything Danish,' said Haarder. 'The system seems to work fairly well in Holland, but those who live here refuse to work actively for integration.' Instead of education and democracy courses, Haarder said the Government would now be using more traditional methods to fight 'medieval religious thinking.' 'We intend to come down very hard on Imams who preach violent methods, or promote the idea of repressing women or forced marriages. Imams can say what they want, as long as they don't incite people to break the law.'

TV asylum row
A TV documentary, 'The Great Asylum Lottery,' claimed last week that certain immigration judges were totally biased when deciding which asylum seekers would be granted residency in this country, and were more often than not influenced by their own political leanings instead of trying to be impartial Some 'soft' judges have granted asylum to 41% of refugees, whilst others, taking a hard-line approach, have rejected up to 96% of all applications. Minister of Refugees, Immigrants and Integration, Bertel Haarder has challenged the Refugee Commission to undertake an internal investigation into why there is such a great disparity in decisions, so that its objectivity isn't placed in doubt.

Language requirements
In an effort to further tighten up immigration legislation, the Government has proposed that refugees should pay for their own Danish language lessons after residing in the country for three years, and if they don't live up to stringent language requirements when applying for permanent residency after seven years, they will be refused residency and deported.
©The Copenhagen Post

New Levy Imposed on Some Foreign Grants Seen as Display of Anti-Western Sentiment

Virtually nothing has stopped a determined band of women from demanding that the Russian military improve its treatment of troops, as the plastic binders bulging with case records in their dusty office show. For nearly a decade, the Soldiers' Mothers Committee has withstood the wrath of high-ranking officers, military prosecutors and defense ministers, including the current one, who this month all but accused the group of encouraging soldiers to desert their units. But the latest conflict with the Russian government has given even the battle-hardened leaders of this organization pause. A little-noticed regulation issued in November specified for the first time what types of foreign grants are exempt from taxes: those intended to promote culture, improve the environment and advance scientific research or education. Conspicuously missing from the list was any mention of human rights or democracy.

The new rule could allow the government to claim nearly one-fourth of the money given through grants to human rights organizations such as the Soldiers' Mothers Committee. "It is horrible that activities that promote civil society and help make Russia a democracy are not included on this list of activities that qualify for tax-free grants," said Arseny Roginsky, chairman of Memorial, one of Russia's most respected human rights groups. Some activists said they fear that the regulation is part of a recent display of anti-Western sentiment in the Kremlin after more than a year of determined efforts by President Vladimir Putin to ally himself with Western leaders. While the basic thrust of Putin's foreign policy is still solidly pro-West, it appears to be fraying at the edges with Russia's recent decisions to expel Peace Corps workers, a European mission to monitor human rights in Chechnya and an American labor activist. Roginsky said the regulation on grants is another reminder that Russia's suspicion about foreign organizations lingers even as it proclaims itself the West's new friend. "The Russian authorities do not sympathize with Western foreign foundations," said Roginsky, whose group is largely financed by the Ford Foundation and the Open Society Institute of the Soros Foundation. "They think that Western foundations want something that is not written in their papers . . . such as control," he said.

Even if it is not enforced, activists said, the new regulation boosts the government's leverage over human rights groups. "What sources of funds do these organizations have besides foreign grants?" said Mara Polyakova, director of the Western-funded Council of Independent Legal Expertise, which advises nonprofit groups. "For many of them, it is a question of survival." Galina Zinkova, a Finance Ministry specialist, said the regulation was adopted to comply with the limits on tax-free grants established by Russia's new tax code. "It is not that we just took those fields and programs from our heads," she said. Some leaders of nonprofit groups saw a hint of a more restrictive policy in Putin's remarks to them in June 2001. He told them their dependence on foreign funds "doesn't do us credit." "Our civil society must develop its own base," he said. "The state in Russia has grown strong enough to provide and support the rights and liberties of its citizens." The women at the Soldiers' Mothers Committee take issue with that. As they see it, they wage a lonely battle against the abuses of Russia's military against its own, including a widespread pattern of beatings and violence that claims hundreds of lives a year. The group depends on grants from the Council of Europe -- of which Russia is a member -- and the German government, each of which contributes about $15,000 a year, according to the group's accountant. Private donors kick in about another $10,000.

The group doesn't look to the Russian government for moral support, either. Pavel Grachev, Russia's defense minister from 1992 to 1996, once characterized the group as a public menace. Sergei Ivanov, Putin's defense minister, said this month that servicemen should rely on their commanding officers or military prosecutors, not on "the so-called Committee of Soldiers' Mothers." "Who supports them? What do they live on?" he asked, according to an account in the Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta. Alexander Savenkov, Russia's military prosecutor, told reporters that two groups that defend the rights of soldiers "are not always scrupulous in their choices of sources of funding" and sometimes violate the law. He did not name the organizations and said he was pleased with the work of most private groups. Ivanov's criticism came several days after two dozen soldiers fled their unit and showed up at the Soldiers' Mothers Committee chapter in St. Petersburg. The soldiers said their captain had thrown stools at them and their major beat them. A spokesman for the unit said the servicemen were unhappy because they were not permitted to drink. At the office of the group's Moscow chapter, workers took Ivanov's disapproval in stride. "Ministers of defense come and go," said Maria Fedulova, as she punched the buttons on the telephone trying to discover what happened to a 20-year-old soldier who disappeared from his unit in October. "And we stay. We've been here 14 years, and we're permanent."
©The Washington Post

Russia is pressuring thousands of Chechen refugees to return to their war-ravaged homeland from the neighboring Russian republic of Ingushetia, even though they fear for their lives and will have nowhere to live, human rights activists said today. Officials of Human Rights Watch, an international rights group, said Russian authorities are resorting to threats and intimidation to force 23,000 Chechens to abandon the Ingush tent camps and return home. In a 27-page report released today, the group accused migration officials of threatening to cut off supplies of food, gas and electricity to the camps if the refugees did not return voluntarily. The report, based on dozens of interviews conducted last month in Ingushetia, contends that Russia is violating various international covenants that prohibit the forcible resettlement of refugees to unsafe areas. Russian officials said that although they wanted the refugees to return home and start to rebuild their shattered region, they were not ordering them out of Ingushetia, a tiny, semi-autonomous republic of about 300,000 on Chechnya's western border. Sergei Yastrzhembsky, a special assistant on Chechnya to Russian President Vladimir Putin, said in Washington this week that Russia had not cut off any water or electricity.

The Human Rights Watch report is the second from such a group in two days to accuse Russia of persecuting Chechen civilians. On Tuesday, officials of two other rights organizations said Moscow police were using an October hostage-taking by Chechen militants as an excuse to detain and beat Chechens throughout the Russian capital. Those groups reported dozens of cases of police misconduct against Moscow's Chechen population, estimated at about 100,000. The accusations of abuses come as the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), one of Europe's premier human rights organizations, is meeting to consider a new resolution on Chechnya. Russia is a member of the intergovernmental group, which was scheduled to vote today. This year's session has been particularly tense because a draft resolution recommends that Russia postpone its plans for a March 23 referendum on a new Chechen constitution. Frank Judd, who monitors Chechnya for PACE, has argued that a referendum held now would be meaningless because the daily violence in the republic prohibits any democratic debate. Russian officials defend the referendum as an important step toward normalcy that will open the way for democratic elections later this year. Dmitri Rogozin, head of Russia's delegation to PACE, has threatened to call for a different official to monitor Chechnya if Judd continued to oppose the referendum.

Although Russia says that it is slowly establishing civil order in the battered republic, conflict continues to rage between the 80,000 Russian soldiers there and a few thousand Chechen guerrillas, who have increasingly resorted to headline-grabbing terrorist tactics. Human Rights Watch officials said today that Russian troops also continue to inflict suffering on the population in Chechnya. The group's report lists 17 male Chechens who disappeared after they were stopped by Russian soldiers and cites allegations that Russian soldiers killed the former administrator of the town of Alkhan-Kala. In Ingushetia, the report says, Russian officials make daily visits to six refugee tent camps, warning families to move out before gas, electricity and humanitarian aid are cut off. Researchers visited 12 sites on a government list offered as alternative government housing in Ingushetia and found 10 of them uninhabitable or occupied, the report says.
©The Washington Post

Over one billion dollars of debt relief was recently granted to Mauritania. Finally, the donors agreed because they were convinced that debt relief would alleviate poverty. But will it end slavery?
By Pieter Smit

In the small Mauritanian town of Rkiz I meet Mehemmet Ouleyne, a flamboyant, modern, mid thirties father of three with a Jeep, eighty camels and an irrigation field. Light skinned, with wide comfortable clothes and his Arab looks, he is a typical example of the ruling minority of people calling themselves ‘white Moors'.In a soft voice he orders his black teen age maid to serve us sweet green tea and camel hump roast under a huge tent next to his house. Yesterday I had talked to four people of a large group of irrigation field workers. Black men in rags they were, also speaking Arab, but living under tiny leaking roofs. They claimed to be Ouleyne's slaves. They had explained to me that they knew that slavery had been abolished 20 years ago but, they said, we still have to pay Dia.

Ouleyne is quite open and pertinent about his sixty slaves. "No, they are not called slaves anymore. Yes, I am their owner, and yes, they have to pay me Dia. It is a compensation for the loss of my slaves according to Islamic law. After they paid, they are free to go". He admits that they are already working on it for two decades. "But, he says, they eat a lot and earn little money for me, so it takes them a long time. And then there are these plagues. Last year it were the birds, the year before it was locust. It is their work to chase the plagues out of the crop. And they don't do that very well. It cost me hundreds of bags of rice every year. It's their fault, so I add it to their Dia. That's why in some years their Dia grows". Ouleyne doesn't need to keep books of the slave's debts, he thinks, because he has a clear memory.

Slavery can be found in many sectors of the Mauritanian economy. Ouleyne explains it in terms of debt, but further away from the capital many slave owners object to even the theoretical rights of slaves to buy themselves free. Children, born to a female slave are by many slave owners considered as new slaves. The consensus now seems to be that trading and raiding slaves has been forbidden, but not owning, exploiting and breeding slaves. To a lesser extent, also giving away female slaves as a present, sometimes under the disguise of forced marriage, is accepted. No Mauritanian court has ever passed any sentence for any of these forms of slavery. Present day slavery in Mauritania is described in great detail by the sociologist Urs Peter Ruf in his recent book ‘Ending slavery'.

Nominally, Ouleyne is the president of an agricultural co-operative, supported by a World Bank project. His sixty ‘ex'-slaves are now the members of the co-operative. Supposedly they elected him in democratic fashion. Ouleyne got the irrigation land after the civil war of 1989, when seventy thousand non-Arab speaking black Mauritanians were thrown off their lands and out of the country. He got a loan out of a fund for irrigation development, filled with World Bank money. Then he bought the Jeep, a tractor and a luxurious house. He got heaps of technical assistance from Sonader, which is a government agency, subsidised by the World Bank and European countries. Ouleyne never paid back the loan, "because the World Bank hasn't been fair to us, Mauritanians". Many of Mauritanian's upper class have taken loans without paying anything back. It contributed to the enormous unpayable debt that has now been forgiven to Mauritania. Meanwhile, the ‘ex' slaves of Ouleyne keep on being bonded into slavery by a debt that nobody in the world seems to care about.

Ouleyne and his sixty slaves are by no means an exception. During my 1999 research trip through the south of Mauritania I interviewed hundred fifty people on 14 different Moorish co-operatives in irrigation and livestock who claimed to be kept and treated as slaves. All of these co-operatives received assistance through World Bank projects. In different area?s in the south, ten to forty percent of these co-operatives work through direct slave labour. In the north it might be more. A document from the Mauritanian government explains that slavery-like relations in co-operatives are common practice through out Mauritania, and that many citizens who once were each others slaves and masters, keep on being bonded together, now into non governmental organisations, commercial enterprises or co-operatives. As the World Bank in Mauritania has been deeply aware of the total undemocratic nature of many of the co-operatives they support, they have demanded a revolving of presidency, so far without any success. Crude calculations from my 1999 survey seem to indicate that between 60.000 and 200.000 people in Mauritania are today slaves in one form or another. From the study of Urs Peter Ruf, it appears that most of them are women and children.

Conflict of laws
According to the Mauritanian government, in modern law, slaves are now ex-slaves, because slavery in all its forms was abolished in 1981. However, in Mauritania there are two bodies of law: The modern one and the Sharia, or Islamic law. Modern law, after foreign pressure, adopted numerous articles against forced labour and slave labour. But a 1981 slavery abolition law recognises the right of the owners of slaves to be compensated for the release of their slaves. An extra complication is that in the constitution, Islam is recognised as the sole source of law. In Mauritania's legal reality this combination gives away the subjects to ancient Islamic teachings. Compensation by whom? By the slaves, agreed the three Islamic clerics that I consulted on this issue. The new speak begot its own logic during the many conversations that I had on this issue. "No", said a French diplomat to me, "slavery is now almost non-existent, because very rarely are black people openly being sold and bought". Many white Mauritanians agree with him. And in the next sentence they use the Arab word for slave (abd) to refer to their ‘ex-slaves', which they claim, are still their personal property until they have been compensated according to the law. Even Ouleyne's girl servant, although she was born years after 1981, is by many considered to be obliged to pay Dia, because she was born to an ‘abd' women.

A progressive Mauritanian lawyer explained to me that most human rights laws are never enforced because they were adopted to satisfy foreigners but they were not approved by, or enforced upon clan leaders, who are pretty much allowed to be kings on their own in their desert regions. Clan leaders are of vital important to this government because they command most of their subject's votes. In two cases they have ordered the minister of justice to order the court to drop a case against them. The lawyer concluded that, despite all claims to the contrary, in modern Mauritanian law the slavery that is abolished, is nowhere defined, leaving many forms of slavery legal. Slavery, he concluded, is not abolished as long as the law recognises compensation rights.

I interviewed a conservative Islamic teacher, a supporter of the government. He also is a judge in one of the many traditional courts, and he agreed to some extent, by pointing out that since 1981 all slaves have the right to start buying themselves free, meaning they are not yet free until they completed paying Dia. He told me he was ashamed that many slave owners don?t want to lose their slaves, especially now that years of good rains enable an increase in camel breeding. So they drag their heels or ignore the rights of their slaves.

Temporary abolished
In 1980, after a lost war, Mauritania was hit by a third year of economic crisis and drought. Slaves in the desert ate more then they produced, and were sent to the capital to beg the government for food. The suddenly very popular opposition movement El Hor (the freedom) demanded an end to slavery. The military dictator Ould Heydallah needed food aid immediately. The donor community had one condition: abolition. Heydallah gave in and transformed himself into an enlightened despot. Together with progressive elements in the army and bureaucracy, he really tried to end slavery, not only in law but also on the ground through networks of new neighbourhood organisations. In these committees, for the short period of their functioning, slaves were often treated as equals. Unfortunately, conservative tribal and Islamic leaders teamed up and managed to water down the proposed law into the 1981 ‘abolition with compensation' act. A government supporter explained to me that many Mauritanians considered that abolition of slavery had been forced upon them in an undemocratic fashion, and that therefore the end of the regime Haidallah in 1982 also meant the end of the abolition of slavery.

UN action and inaction
In 1984, with a new dictator ruling the country, the UN sent a special representative, Professor Marc Bossuyt, to sort out the slavery issue. He concluded that slavery was now hidden inside the structures of extended families, and that the new government was unwilling to intervene in what was considered to be family business. He hoped that the drought that had destroyed much of the old nomadic economy, would also contribute to the end of slavery, that had formed an integral part of it. Economic development would hopefully further drive out slavery. He recommended development money to be given to co-operatives and to small business. It is now almost two decades later, and Bossuyt?s relative optimism has turned out not to be justified. Since then, the UN has fully co-operated with the World Bank's strategies. Most of the other recommendations of Bossuyt regarding more concrete rights and actions for and by slaves have been ignored by the government and disappeared from the international agenda. UNDP-chief Michel de la Taille, whom I interviewed June this year, recognised my description of Mauritanian slavery, but preferred to call it differently in order not to get into problems with authorities. He conceded there might be some slavery on UNDP-projects, but he said, he was proud he also created projects without slavery. He blamed opposition parties for obstructing democratisation by continuously 'putting a high flag on slavery', thus provoking government repression.

Slavery on other projects
I interviewed three dozens of Europeans and Americans, who worked in the country as experts or managers on development projects. Many of their projects, intended to help the poor, had during the last twelve years been taken over by white Moors, and often turned into new opportunities to continue with slavery. A Dutch development worker personally witnessed such a take over, that took place at gunpoint. Whilst she was present, she could do nothing against it, because the person taking over was supported by armed soldiers. This summer I again had a series of interviews with development workers in Mauritania of all ranks. Most of those who worked in the field knew in great detail how slavery was part and parcel of Mauritanian society, and often of their project?s labour structure. With two good exceptions most of their chiefs or country directors told me they had never seen slavery, they had heard rumours but didn't know anything about it, except that it was an extremely sensitive subject. Most of them told me they couldn't believe that it might also happen on their own projects. None of them had any strategy in place to deal with the issue if it surfaced on their projects.

Exemplary was an interview I had with dr. Thomas, a top development manager with six years of local experience. He works for GTZ, the official German development co-operation in Mauritania. First he denied the existence of slavery in Mauritania with the argument that slaves are always free to go. He tried to convince me that all the people who had told me they were slaves, were talking bullshit. Then he said that slavery in Mauritania only really existed in the very south of the country, where non-Arab tribes such as Soninke and Fulani, in opposition to government policy, were still keeping slaves in a very cruel way. Then he called in one of his Mauritanian senior project manager and asked him to explain to me that Moorish slavery was not harsh at all, compared to that of the tribes in the south. This man, himself of Moorish descent, immediately laughed shy and denied: "No, the Moors may be less violent at first sight. They are more subtle but also a lot harder in their slavery. They don't need to beat their slaves, because slaves can't run away, because Moors totally control all the alternatives to slavery in this society and economy". We talked on and he explained that when they were present on their projects, all white Moors were obliged to treat black people as equals, and show respect. But he had no way of knowing how the supposedly former slaves on their projects were treated after working hours and off project. He confirmed my suspicion that this could mean that part of the people on their projects might in reality still be exploited as slaves today and GTZ had no way of knowing or stopping it. Dr. Thomas suddenly looked up with a bewildered face from his computer and intervened, almost shouting: "Economic development will totally change this country and end all forms of slavery. Nothing can stop that".

It might very well. But how much time will it take? Experts claimed that drought in 1980 had led to massive urbanisation and thus effectively ended nomadism and slavery. UNs Marc Bossuyt wrote that development would help to drive out slavery. The Mauritanian government said that modern laws and courts offer total protection against any form of slavery. World Banks local chief Jean Mazurelle wrote that slavery only exists in the head of some slaves, and that special World Bank projects were alleviating the poverty of these ex-slaves. But do they?

Slaves in World Bank's slums
What kept the World Bank from doing anything more effective? The first reason is that The World Bank is a bank, so they want to lend out money. The success of a country team in Mauritania or anywhere else is partly measured by the amount of money they manage to lend to the government. There is a continuous push from above to ‘locally reproduce best practices from other countries' which would enable more loans. In this culture, any report to Washington that something is seriously different and wrong in this country, and that this would at best render futile most normal strategies for poverty alleviation, are not likely to be very welcome. And they had the UNs Marc Bossuyt report which they explained as an advise to invest in development, to help drive out slavery.

Another reason why The Bank did nothing is that many of the decisions in the World Bank are taken in Washington, by macro economists. Most of them believe that if one inserts the instruments of a modern economy in a poor country, such as book keeping, tax, balanced budgets, free market laws, loans, technology and information, this by itself will drive out medieval and uneconomical habits such as slavery. These economists often lack the skills to imagine an economy where markets, in spite of nice laws, are totally unfree, where people are seen and treated as property, while cultural practices exclude them and many others from owning any means of production. While remedies in Mauritania can only work if they are defined in terms of the local peculiarities, the World Bank's Washington managers, it seems partly under pressure from the IMF, demanded their country team that a choice was made out of standard instruments.

A third reason it seems, why the Bank didn't know what to do with slavery, is that they think the Mauritanian government and the white upper class have a reputation to be extremely scared to loose control over their slaves and become a minority in their own country, even fearing the risk to be thrown out if ever all black Mauritanians would unite against them. They therefore have a tendency, I was explained by one World Bank expert, to totally ignore the international community and even throw themselves into very violent adventures to get things their way. The bloodiest of these adventures was their 1989 conflict in the Senegal border area, in which over a thousand non-Arab speaking Mauritanians got killed and seventy thousand expulsed by government soldiers and makeshift armies of white Moors and their slaves.

However, since then the country has in many respects returned to normality and its government does listen now carefully to the wishes of the international community. Unexplained disappearances and prison deaths of opposition party members have gone down considerably. Elections do get rigged less then before, and recently a handful of seats have been allowed to go to the opposition. Most state monopolies have been transformed into private monopolies. In the capital many businesses are competing in a lively urban setting and some of them are even paying taxes. The Central Bank now has a system for book keeping in place. Mauritania has even granted Israel formal recognition and the right to open up diplomatic representation. All these facts would have been totally unimaginable eight years ago, when I first visited the country. If all of these achievements could have been allowed, or, more precise, massaged into the fabric of Mauritania?s political and economic live, then couldn't something have been done on the social side? The answer, of course, is yes.

Abolition Mauritanian style
In 1994, in the mosque in the town of Rkiz, I witnessed a slave liberation ceremony. Nobody translated at that moment, nobody thought I would understand it, so I was a welcome tourist. It took me days to reconstruct what exactly I had witnessed. The Mullah, in theory also representing the government in his capacity as chair of the local court, led the ceremony. He praised the slave for his loyalty and all that he had learnt, he praised his owner (a distant nephew of the current president of the country) for being so generous, and hinted that it would please Allah greatly if more slaves were liberated. Presents were exchanged, and the slave was given a paper in classical Arabic, called ?attestation de liberté?, defining him as a true Haratin (ex-slave). Later I found out that forty-six other slaves of the same owner were not liberated, amongst them the wife and kids of the liberated slave. This would mean that for the rest of his life the now ex-slave would work to buy his own family free. Slaves often believe they will never get an ‘attestation de liberté' unless they have reproduced themselves by having at least two kids to stay behind.

In 1999 I spent a night in the tent of Ould Weyne and Raiza in the village of TinTin. Weyne was a poet and a white Moor and obviously he was in love with the black Raiza. I asked them if they were married. Their answer was that they wanted, but they couldn?t because Raiza was a slave, so their children would be slaves, having no chance to become equal citizens. By openly living together, they already insulted Weyne's whole family. I asked why they didn't ask Raiza's owner to end her slave status. Weyne told me that they had asked for her liberation several times, but his nephew, who owned her, had no time because he worked as an ambassador for Mauritania in a large European country. Nor did he want to liberate Raiza, because that would bring trouble for him with other members of the family, they explained.

In their official contacts with donors the Mauritanian government often demand all slaves to be called ‘Haratin' (which is the word for an ex-slave with an ‘attestation de liberté'). But under four eyes they conceded to some of the Europeans I spoke, that it is a shame, but there might still exist numbers of isolated cases of slavery in backward families in the remote countryside. Meantime, in the private quarters and rural branches of these same ruling class families, as well as in the slums around the capital, everybody exactly knows which persons are freed from slavery and which persons are not. While most slaves who do daily slave labour (as opposed to run away or sent away slaves in the slums around cities) are exploited by the lesser family members in the countryside, most owners of these slaves live in the capital Nouakchott, where, it seems, many of them work for the government or for donors such as the World Bank.

But the picture isn't all that grim. Many Moors, both slaves, former ex-slaves, white Moors and Fulani from the south, told me different versions of the tale of the war of Shuur Bubba in 1774. It functions as the founding myth of their common country, and of their ideology regarding slavery. The outcome to which all Mauritanian leaders of that time signed up, was that raids for new slaves were no longer good, and that existing slaves, according to the sayings of the Prophet Mohammed, should be emancipated quickly and totally. Many of the upper class Mauritanians that I spoke, not only in opposition parties, but also within the ruling PRDS party and in the bureaucracy, think that to emancipate slaves into equal citizens is a serious duty of all Muslims, and that it has taken way too long.

Seven years ago, progressive elements in the bureaucracy wrote a document in which they analysed the continued existence of extreme poverty as a result of slavery, and they concluded that often the government does discriminate against the ‘ex'-slaves. They circulated this document to the local chiefs of the UN and the World Bank, but both completely missed this wonderful opportunity to open up the debate. June this year I ran into one of the most senior members of the ruling party, who expressed the strong wish to somehow pull the project of emancipating the ‘ex'-slaves out of the sand. He claimed that, also because of recent gains of an anti slavery opposition party, many in his party would want to force the urban rich to really change their attitude towards ‘ex'-slaves. But they don?t know how. So there have been and continue to be opportunities to connect to those in power who want to end slavery.

But instead of encouraging them, the World Bank in 1998 wrote in a press statement that to talk about slavery could endanger Mauritania's chances to get debt reduction. Hard-liners in the government repeated this message in even harsher wordings, and announced a crack down on anybody claiming the existence of slavery, jailing some of them. Since then slavery has gone even more underground, and slave liberation ceremonies, such as the one I witnessed in 1994, have stopped, while most traditional courts have now stopped to handle complaints from slaves concerning Dia. Also, an opposition party has been banned because they tried to put slavery on the agenda.

Debt Reduction
Debt reduction in fact could have been a wonderful instrument to work towards the ending of slave owning and slave exploitation. It even almost was. In 1998, Mauritania with its one point one billion dollars of unpayable debt, became one of the first countries allowed to apply for debt reduction. The World Bank assisted the government to produce heaps of assessments, strategies, analyses and a well written, substantial poverty reduction strategy paper. None of these papers made any reference to slavery, not even indirectly. The American congress, heavily belobbied by representatives of the seventy thousand Mauritanians who were thrown out or killed in 1989, didn't buy it and demanded to be convinced that debt reduction would really benefit the poor and tackle discrimination. The words ‘human rights and insertion' were added to a poverty project to make up for the ‘weakness in project implementation and of evaluation of their impact on the poor'. Also the government promised to talk about human rights with representatives of the civil society, that they thought were reasonable. ‘Anti-esclavists' were excluded from this UN- World Bank funded workshops, to which neither UN, nor World Bank objected. June this year the US congress watered down their veto and allowed their World Bank Director to agree. So in the end, Ouleyne's bank got debt relief. But not Ouleyne's slaves. That is the irony of debt relief in Mauritania.

Both in Washington and in Mauritania the World Bank had people who had the skills and will to really look into the relation between slavery and development. But it seems these people were told by their bosses that the policy was that slavery was almost extinct and dead as an issue, because development would drive out slavery. An extra argument given by their bosses was, that if slavery was publicly admitted to exist, it would stop development money from flowing to the country, which would slow down progress and thus prolong the plight of the remaining slaves. Unfortunately, nobody bothered to check the assumption behind it, that development money would drive out slavery.

Obstruction by the greedy
The rich and powerful in highly complex Mauritanian society can for the sake of argument be divided in three simple groups: The greedy ones, the conservatives and the progressives. Representatives of all three sections can be found in the government, the army, the bureaucracy and in many Mauritanian NGOs. The greedy ones, as is often argued, monopolised all positions where money goes around. They keep a stranglehold, not only on Islamic leaders, the government and bureaucracy, but also on the economy and on many of the development projects. To say it bluntly, with relative few people they obstructed democratisation, they plundered government and development funds, and with the loot saved slavery, from death by desertification.

Conservatives, the second group, usually object to the dilution of traditional and regional powers, and to many other progressive policies. But many conservatives seem to share with progressives a real wish for more emancipation of their slaves. And both groups share a strong dislike for the greedies? abuse of money and power. Together conservatives and progressives could form a majority in many government institutions. The World Bank, the UN and the NGOs of course could have tried to exploit this. But like in 1981, in the last few years, opportunities to team op these progressives and conservatives behind emancipation have been totally missed. The international community even turned a blind eye on repression against ‘anti-esclavists'.

Instead of forcing emancipation on the agenda, the World Bank, in spite of their mission to ‘fully research all facts, relevant to understand poverty'?, has allowed their research apparatus to be blinded for the plight of slaves and ex-slaves, while they almost ordered those in and around the government who want emancipation to shut up. Debt relief and new loans now give the greedy ones not only more reasons to keep their stranglehold on slaves, development, government and democratisation. It will also give them the power and finance they need to invent new projects for the next generations of slaves.

Recommendations: Two possible futures
What should be done? I can't possibly, and shouldn't answer this question alone. I think the most important lesson of all past interventions is that you can't fight slavery if you don't name it slavery. To use a favourite World Bank line of argument: Both the World Bank and the government should start claiming ownership of the slavery problem. Slaves themselves and their organisations have to be involved in defining problems and solutions. Empowerment of the poor, as prescribed in the new World Bank policies, can only be a very good starting point if it isn't defined top down, but in terms of the peculiarities of the complex Mauritanian reality.

Bilateral donors and foreign NGOs could start finding out which of their personnel are slaves (check your guard and be surprised!) Also I think they should find out which ‘beneficiaries' on their projects want an ‘attestation de liberté' (freedom paper), and how else they could be protected from slavery. The World Bank and other donors might try to team up the conservatives and progressives in government and opposition around emancipation, starting by opening up and beefing up the UNDP's HURIST (local human rights)-program. They can stop giving money to the greedy ones if they obstruct. They can explain the government they will probably loose future elections, and surely loose further debt reduction and new loans, unless they really help the slaves.

The World Bank and government together could go to the slaves, and listen to them. Just listen. Then, the household survey can be adapted to find out how many and how poor the slaves are, and what they want. If slaves want it, the government could make their owners write ‘attestations de liberté' (freedom papers), also for the children of all slaves. The government could enforce to reunite the many thousands of child slaves with their biological families. They can allow slaves to organise themselves, tell them that Dia and unpaid wages can be demanded back in court. Donors could give money for lawyers. The government could tell the owners of slaves that they should honour Shuur Bubba and start paying wages.

Donors could demand the democratisation of their co-operatives, projects and programs, and stop funding those that don't. Religious leaders might be involved and maybe encouraged to declare a new Fatwa against slavery. The government could go to the police and to both Islamic and modern courts, and order them to go out in the field and find and end all forms of slavery. Politicians and judges might have to be protected from pressure by slave owners, including those in their own families and in the government and army. Also crucial: the government could be helped to fight not only the monopolies that work against foreign businesses, but even more so the monopolies that work against the ex-slaves and the slaves.

The other option, of course, is to continue blind and mute on the current track. I met a white Mauritanian urban city planner. He was a well educated government supporter and an owner of eight ‘ex-slaves'. He was in search for development money to alleviate their and his own poverty. After discussing a number of development projects in his home town and the slave labour on them, with a touch of grim humour he said that maybe, if progress between Mauritanians allows, fifty years from now the only places where slavery in Mauritania will still being practised, will be on World Bank projects.
(For privacy reasons, names of interviewed persons have been changed.)
Full report in English/Français: Rapport complèt

Strong migration movements problematic

Since birth rates started to really decline in the late 1970s, doom-mongers have drawn up scenarios of a dying German populace, underlined by images of empty kindergartens, apartments and offices. Today, more than one million empty apartments in eastern Germany once again nurture such visions. Predictions that the German population will decline by 200,000 a year would see entire cities disappear from the German map, with real estate assets becoming an investment graveyard. Indeed deaths have outnumbered births for many years. In 2000, about 839,000 people died while only 767,000 babies were born. Nonetheless, the German population has actually expanded steadily since the mid-1980s, from 77.6 million to 82.3 million in 2000, according to the Federal Statistics Office. The increase was caused by the inflow of immigrants, with about 370,000 foreigners emigrating to Germany in 1999 and 2000.

Many experts reckon with another immigration wave as a result of the EU's eastward enlargement from 2004 because wages in Germany are considerably higher than in neighboring accession countries. And more Turks might flock to Germany if the EU decided to admit Turkey a few years from now. Thanks to its growing foreign component, the German population thus does not have to fear for severe shrinkage in the next 10 to 20 years. Meanwhile, migration within Germany is yielding winners and losers. The biggest winners are economically thriving cities. Towns such as Lüneburg, a quaint small town near Hamburg, are coveted places of residence. Cities with badly battered labor markets, such as Wilhelmshaven, lose out. But trends can change if cities manage to lure investment and new jobs. Leipzig is one example. Thanks to its successful settlement policy, the city now has a high-growth image and attracts investors and residents with low rents, highly-skilled labor, a modern airport and little red tape.
©Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Public fears over asylum seekers must be addressed - but not by pandering to a hysterical press
By Polly Toynbee

Reading the asylum mania of the rightwing press in the past few weeks creates a red mist of disgust: the words jump up and down before the eyes. The Sun's daily Asylum Madness campaign now has 385,000 readers signed up to its petition: "I call upon Prime Minister Tony Blair to protect Britain before it is too late." The Daily Mail's YouGov poll found 72% of voters now want all asylum seekers turned away. It started with a failing newspaper, flailing about for readers. The Express has run asylum on the front page almost every day for months: circulation rose for the first time in years. Three weeks ago, despite assurances to the contrary, the temptation became too much and the Quiet Man joined the asylum rant: the Tory press have given him good coverage. Oliver Letwin now follows in his wake, no more Mr Nice Guy.

It has been putrid stuff, backed by heavyweight rightwing thinktanks' purported research. Civitas and MigrationWatch have been churning out the terrifying factoids. Meanwhile, the particularly pernicious Anthony Browne has shot to fame on a novel tack: it's not the ricin, guns, crack, bombs, whores and terror that should scare us witless about asylum seekers, it's the filthy diseases they harbour - Aids, TB and hepatitis B, "Blair's epidemics". He writes in the Times, Sun and Spectator: "This is Labour, whose intellectual faculties are so crippled by political correctness that not offending would-be immigrants has become more important than saving the lives of British people." I can remember nothing like this. The naked hate is not coded or polite, not iced with concern for domestic race relations. The shocking shooting of DC Stephen Oake has allowed anyone to write anything disgusting about asylum seekers and migrants with impunity. What could be worse than a respected policeman murdered at the hands of a supposed ricin-making Algerian asylum seeker terrorist? Not even the Sun could have invented it.

When David Blunkett hit back boldly at the "hysteria" of the Sun's Asylum Madness campaign, they loved it, relishing every word. The Times printed a column from its sister paper's political editor, Trevor Kavanagh, repeating in upmarket form the same factoids and myths. "Our readers are appalled at the way the country is changing before our eyes." Like the others, he says a million people have entered the country in the past five years. Not true. The Office of National Statistics says 500,000 have arrived in the past five years, only some of them asylum seekers. That number includes all migrants, such as keenly sought professionals - doctors, nurses and IT specialists. Britain's population has grown less than most EU countries - just 17% since 1951, 2.3 million in the past 20 years. At this point it is easy to get carried away foaming at the mouth at their mendacity. It would be easy to fill the rest of this space with refutations of their disgracefully distorted figures and leave it at that, as if the matter was closed and there was no problem beyond a racist press. But that would deny the awkward truth that there is a genuine problem with the working of the asylum system. And there is great political danger in failing to make it work and be clearly seen to work. Ask almost any Labour MP what is going on in their constituencies and they blanch. At the top of the agenda is the charge that Labour has lost control of its borders: terrorism blends with asylum.

A decent and wise man, Chris Mullin, chair of the home affairs select committee, has 1,500 asylum seekers in his Sunderland constituency and he takes his constituents' protests seriously. "There is real anger, especially from those who are only just up the ladder from the asylum seekers. They do think resources are being diverted. They think asylum seekers are getting mobile phones and cars from the state, and certainly better benefits, when of course they get much less." He adds that it's hardly surprising that the poorest object to the danger that migrants, legal or not, will drive down their pay rates. It is social housing that comes under pressure. He believes that while asylum numbers still rise - they may have reached 100,000 last year - the "swamped" hysteria will not abate. His committee is holding hearings on removals, examining the trouble the government has in removing the 58% of asylum seekers whose claims fail. (No, not 90% as the Sun and the rest claim.) The worst charge lobbed at the government is that only 12,000 of some 58,000 were actually deported. This, too, is a factoid, since many of those refused refugee status go home under their own steam: the recently arrived have a strong motive to do so, since they can apply for visas to return again, whereas if they are forcibly removed they can never come back. But the trouble is, no one knows how many do slip away into a "Dirty Pretty Things" world.

It is this sense of slippage and loss of grip that alarms. Actual numbers matter less than uncertainty about numbers. It leaves the government rightly anxious: the lessons of failing to calm nerves on asylum lie littered in elections across Europe. The left cannot simply turn away in disgust at the right's campaign, which now calls for withdrawing from the Geneva convention itself. That would lead to its collapse and all the millions of people fleeing wars (mainly into camps in neighbouring countries far poorer than Europe) would no longer find safe haven. This wild threat could become reality unless irrational fears are allayed by a fair system that works. The government is on the right track. The backlog of 37,000 awaiting adjudication (already much reduced from Michael Howard's day) has to be sorted fast. The Refugee Council supports the idea of a seven-day induction system for all new applicants (no need to lock them in), so their cases are assessed quickly and those not sent back at once get their ID cards, benefits, health checks and basic civic information before being dispersed. (Locking them all in at a cost of £630m is madness.)

Security checks would guarantee terrorists did not choose the asylum route (but would hardly stop them coming in as tourists or students). Speed and efficiency would draw the heat out of this storm. It is no use the left calling the government racist every time they try to make the system work as it should: the trouble with the left is they don't read the right papers. Social democrats might consider that there are two models of society: a cohesive, socially responsible Swedish style where the rich do pay for the poor, where there is such a thing as society within a nation state with firm borders. (Their sharing habit makes them more socially responsible to the rest of the world too.) Or there is the open door, wild west model of the US, where the tradition of immigration has moulded a very different politics. New entrants can, if they wish, join a third-world underclass as cheap labour, with scant chance of ever joining the American dream, but they should never expect the better off to share with unknown strangers in this devil-take-the-hindmost society. There are limits to how far any society can stretch its sense of caring for others. Borders matter: how many come in has to be known and agreed by the citizens.
©The Guardian

Nearly two million new immigrants in a decade and a deepening spectrum of visible minorities: not since the Great Depression has Canada looked so colourful - and so crowded. New census numbers on immigration and ethnic origin released Tuesday by Statistics Canada suggest the country is living up to its reputation as a place where diversity is embraced, not erased. But if the latest signs of ethnic tension are any indication, those numbers - four times as many visible minorities in the 1990s, a percentage of foreign-born residents second only to Australia and several areas where minorities are now the majority - also indicate a growing need to get along. Four million visible minorities, 13.4 per cent of the total population, called Canada home during the last decade of the 20th century, compared with 1.1 million or 4.7 per cent in 1981, the numbers show. All told, 5.4 million people reported being foreign-born, comprising 18.4 per cent of the total population - the highest since 1931 and a full percentage point higher than the ratio five years ago. Only Australia has more foreign-born residents - 22 per cent. In 2000, 11 per cent of U.S. residents were born outside the country.

"What struck me is how immigration is shaping the mosaic," said Statistics Canada analyst Jane Badets. Despite the growing influence of Asian countries on Canada's face and voice, the impact of decades of European immigration is still plainly visible, Badets said. "When I look at the mosaic, I still see the British, the French, the English, the Irish, the Scottish - all those top 10 ethnic origins of all Canadians," she said. "But I also see the European immigration that's come - the Germans, the Italians, the Ukrainians, and I see the new groups . . . emerging among the top 10 ethnic origins."

The trend suggests Canadians will find out in coming years just how racially unified their country is, said Jeffrey Reitz, a professor of immigration studies at the University of Toronto. "Race relations is going to become a more central issue in Canadian society in the future; I think that's really a foregone conclusion," Reitz said. "Where in the last 30 years or so gender has been a big topic, I think that's going to eventually be replaced by race relations. That just seems to be inevitable."

Ekuwa Smith, senior research associate Canadian Council on Social Development, said many immigrants have been marginalized by stereotyping. She said there's a need for more education to change these attitudes. "We have immigrants coming in and most of the knowledge that the general public has about them is all stereotypes," she said. "We have to teach people that these people speak English, they speak French, they are highly educated, they are hard-working people." Given the facts, she said, "I think people would be much more inclined to be warm or to help to integrate these people into the society rather than the hostility and the isolation that we see."

In 2001, there were 1.8 million immigrants in Canada who arrived during the previous decade, 6.2 per cent of the total population, compared with 1.1 million - 4.3 per cent - in 1991. Of those, 61 per cent reported speaking neither English nor French most often at home; a surprising 9.4 per cent reported having no knowledge of either official language. Visible minorities represented a towering 73 per cent of the immigrant population who arrived during the 1990s, a huge jump from the 52 per cent of those who arrived in the 1970s, the agency said. If that trend continues, one in five Canadians will be a visible minority in 2016, up from 13 per cent in 2001. In some places, minorities are already the majority: 59 per cent in Richmond, B.C., and 56 per cent in Markham, Ont.

Immigration Minister Denis Coderre said the tendency of newcomers to congregate in major urban centres must be addressed. "The challenge will be to encourage immigrants to settle in other regions of Canada to allow all parts of the country to benefit from immigration," he said. He and his provincial counterparts are working on ways of luring people to smaller communities. Canada has long nurtured its reputation as a peaceful, welcoming champion of multiculturalism, home to the mosaic instead of the melting pot, a country defined by its people rather than the other way around.

But Reitz said recent history is full of examples that suggest Canada is no less prone to racism and hatred than anywhere else. "Race problems, when they really come to the surface, have usually been around for so long that at that point it's really difficult to do much about it," he said. "I've had the impression that the public has really turned away from this issue in the last five to 10 years." Take Toronto, which now boasts one of the highest percentages of foreign-born residents in the world, according to Statistics Canada. Social workers there say it's often difficult to overcome the barriers between ethnic communities and the agencies designed to assist newcomers.

Sometimes, when new immigrants already have an ethnic community to turn to, it often feels as though they're not interested in participating in anything else Canada has to offer, said Jane Rogers, who works with Toronto's WoodGreen Community Centre. "But when you start to work with them and get to know them as individuals, you realize that's not the case." "I think people are just basically people," Rogers said, "and if you give them an opportunity to know them on an individual basis, you can do a lot to sort of break down those barriers." There are still those trying to build those barriers back up.

On Monday, Toronto police said they'd been monitoring a Jan. 11 concert in a west-end suburb hosted by neo-Nazi white supremacists and featuring a variety of so-called "hate rock" bands. Even the police are embroiled in racial tensions with members of the city's black community - an issue experts expect more Canadian cities to wrestle with in the coming decades. A legal dispute has already erupted between Canada's largest municipal police force and Canada's most widely circulated newspaper, the Toronto Star, over a recent series of articles that suggested police treatment of visible minorities is consistent with racial profiling. And then there was the jarring vandalism - fires, smashed windows, spray-painted epithets - that marred several Canadian mosques and synagogues after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

"It shook some Canadians out of their complacency, to realize just how close to the surface racism really was," said Karen Mock, executive director of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation. "There was this veneer of treating people's neighbours and colleagues with respect, but suddenly, Muslim women . . . were afraid to go out of their homes." Funding for educational programs that promote human rights and anti-racism efforts has been declining in recent years, the result of complacency about racism in Canada, Mock said. She cited a Hindu temple in Hamilton that was razed by fire in the days following Sept. 11 - police say the arsonists mistook it for a mosque - as the sort of ignorance those programs are designed to deal with. "I think people realized that the programs had eroded in some areas; they said, 'Uh-oh, we still need this,' because there's another generation of people who haven't been exposed to human rights education," she said. "We need to continue these kinds of initiatives and not just fall back on our laurels, because of the human nature to fear the stranger."

The incident in Hamilton proved so disconcerting that the city launched Strengthening Hamilton's Community, an initiative with community leaders to develop long-term strategies to repair some of the damage. For its part, the federal government is straining to keep up with Canada's ever-evolving tapestry of ethnic backgrounds. Heritage Minister Sheila Copps, who's hosting a diversity and culture forum next April to help revamp Canada's cultural policies, has vowed to help "visible majorities" earn a higher profile in corporate boardrooms and the public service, where they represent just six per cent of employees. "When it comes to achieving full equality, we are falling far behind," Copps told the National Council of Visible Minorities in a speech last year. "When it comes to being told we just can't find the qualified people, I have no patience. When it comes to institutional roadblocks for visible minorities, I do not and will not understand."

Of the more than 200 ethnic origins in Canada, the three largest visible minority groups in 2001 were Chinese, Asian and black, accounting for two-thirds of the visible minority population. The Chinese were the largest visible minority group in 2001, surpassing the one million mark for the first time with 1,209,400 people, 3.5 per cent of the national population and 26 per cent of all visible minorities. Some 860,100 people identified themselves as Chinese in 1996. There were 917,100 people who identified themselves as South Asian in the 2001 census, up from 670,600 in 1996. They comprise 3.1 per cent of the total population, and 23 per cent of the visible minority population. The number who said they were black was 662,200 in 2001, up from 573,900 in 1996. Black people comprised 2.2 per cent of the total population, or 17 per cent of visible minorities.

A significant proportion of the visible minorities on the East Coast are blacks, making up 57 per cent of the visible minorities in Nova Scotia and 31 per cent in P.E.I. Many are descendants of black immigrants who arrived along with the French, British and Scottish settlers of the British colonial era, as well as slaves who escaped along the Underground Railroad or were freed by the British in colonial America in return for their labour or willingness to fight in the Revolutionary War or the War of 1812. "Although North Americans don't often see it this way, from the perspective of many people around the world, race is a big deal," said Reitz. "It will be interesting to see whether Canada as a country is able to resolve racial issues that are arising here better than the world as a whole does it."

Not even the census-takers themselves are immune from modern-day sensitivities about race. Some of the ethnic origin questions on the 2001 census were rephrased as a result of complaints from some people of mixed heritage, said Secretary of State (Multiculturalism) Jean Augustine. But no major organizations have ever objected to the collection of the data, said Augustine, who defended the practice as necessary to an accurate portrayal of Canada and its people. "I think that Canadians realize that we need to have that information," she said. "We need to know who we are, we need to know where we live, we need to know where we congregate . . . All of those things are important to us."
©The Canadian Press

By Robert Fulford

No decent human being approves of racism, but if it vanished we might miss it. Many Canadians depend on racism as their main source of righteous anger and would be bereft without it. Denouncing it gives purpose to their lives. For others, it's a living. Where would university harassment officers be without racism? Where would the Canadian Race Relations Foundation be if it couldn't publish Racist Discourse In Canada's English Print Media, which uses "discourse analysis" to prove that "racialized discourse" is routine in Canadian newspapers? What would human rights commissions do, or post-modern literary theorists?

These people don't want to know that racism has been in decline for decades. In 1996, Richard Gwyn remarked in the Toronto Star that Canadians, white or non-white, are probably the world's least racist people. He challenged his readers to name any country in the UN less afflicted by racism, but of course there were no nominations. Even so, some readers considered Gwyn racist just for mentioning that things were going fairly well; there's thought to be something unseemly about celebrating such an accomplishment. Meanwhile, his editors have continued their merciless campaign to prove that racism blights the Canadian (or anyway the Toronto) soul.

Those who report on racism sometimes sound desperate, as if they had trouble uncovering enough of it to make an impression. That's the case with the January-February issue of This Magazine, focused on race relations. A special-interest journal, This Magazine does for the Canadian left what Mortuary Management Monthly does for the death-care industry. This Magazine especially cherishes its young audience and strives to be cool. It tries to bring sophisticated irony to racism. The result makes me think of Joe Clark telling a joke.In one article, "I Chink Therefore I Am," Kate Rigg, a part-Indonesian and part-white comedian, says: "I say chink a lot. I also say gook, nip, jap." She tries to take the curse off racial slurs by ridiculing them, but doesn't mention that black comedians have been working this vein for many years, with mixed and often discouraging results.

Elsewhere in the issue, Jeremy Gans takes a different approach. He provides a glossary of race-related terms that sensitive readers will strive to avoid. Don't say Gypsy (the word is Roma), don't use gyp, don't call a money-lender a Shylock (refers to that unpleasant chap in Shakespeare), and never call people welshers -- even Bill Clinton had to apologize when he tripped on that one. You can't be too careful. Never say paddy wagon, for instance. It probably refers to police arresting Irishmen more than a century ago. On the other hand, you'll be relieved to know that scot-free is OK, referring not to Scots, but to a tax or fee paid in England several hundred years ago.

In the unrelenting search for bigotry, researchers are digging ever deeper into public consciousness. A press release announcing the current issue of This Magazine says that studies by Mahzarin Banaji indicate that "an astonishing number of people (90-95%!) have racist attitudes -- and don't even know it." Banaji, a Yale psychology professor, deploys something called the Implicit Association Test, which goes beyond what people say and claims to uncover their feelings by measuring the speed with which they associate pleasant or unpleasant items with names and faces. Used on a simpler, non-racial question in the run-up to the 2000 presidential election, IAT showed (or claimed to show) that many who expressed a preference for Bill Bradley or John McCain were unconsciously leaning toward Al Gore or George Bush. It makes more startling claims about race. Banaji told This Magazine that when she herself took the race-related version of the test, it frightened her: Even she showed hidden bigotry! Incidentally, what will she say when she reads her interview in print? This Magazine has misspelled her first name three times in two different ways. Will that "error" look suspiciously like the typical carelessness of unconscious bigots confronting a name from a non-Western culture?

Raghu Krishnan, who makes it clear that his credentials are all-purpose lefty (pro-Sandinista, anti-apartheid, pro-Palestinian, anti-free trade, etc.), writes about the good old 1980s and 1990s in "Remembering Anti-racism." He used to wear a T-shirt lettered "No Sandinista ever called me Paki," which, he admits, "resonated more" in those days than now. Krishnan helped start his share of alphabet-soup protest groups, such as the United Coalition Against Racism (UCAR) at the University of Toronto, and the Toronto Coalition Against Racism (TCAR). Like many others, they flowered briefly and died -- and Krishnan, with unusual candor, explains why. Apparently the mere fact of "marginalization" wasn't enough to draw disparate ethnic forces together. More important, many potential recruits began enjoying too much success to be interested. Krishnan is particularly appalled by one South Asian outfit, grounded in leftist politics, that ended up as a Web site catering to "the middle-class conformism that asserted itself over the organized South Asian community." He doesn't say it, but the meaning comes through. These dynamic, progressive organizations foundered because, sadly, Canada let them down. The country simply couldn't produce enough racism to keep them in business.
©National Post

Canada's anti-racism industry never quits

Dear Editor:

I find that I must respond to Robert Fulford's column: Canada's anti-racism industry never quits (January 11, 2003), first to say that he has completely misinterpreted the nature and purpose of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation (CRRF). The Foundation was founded as part of the Japanese Canadian Redress Agreement to work at the forefront of efforts to combat racism and all forms of racial discrimination in Canada, to document the history of racism in Canada, to expose its current manifestations and to provide independent, outspoken leadership in the struggle for human rights, equality and social justice for all Canadians. We fulfill our mandate through sound research and education programs, by building collaborative networks, and by supporting outstanding initiatives across the country that strive to pre-empt and to counter racism in all its forms.

Secondly, Mr Fulford is right is saying that overt racism in Canada is not as bad as it used to be. However, that does not mean that we can rest on our laurels. As recent events have shown, racism has not yet reached the point where it should be left unattended. I agree with Mr Fulford that "No decent human being approves of racism." The problem is that there are many decent people who do not recognize racism or know how to name it. More importantly, they do not know how to counter it when it occurs.

Even "decent people" make mistakes. And while an individual may not be deliberately or maliciously racist, when anyone makes racist statements, we must speak out. Not only does racism hurt the targeted victim, but the entire community is affected. The fact is that while many of the blatant forms of racism, such as signs prohibiting Black people from drinking from a water fountain or "Blacks (or other racial groups) need not apply", have been legally removed, racial discrimination continues to exist in Canada. Mr. Fulford would surely agree that not all groups receive equal treatment and equal opportunity in this country. Our frequently corroborated research reveals differential treatment of Aboriginal peoples and religious and racial minorities in employment, education and the justice system. And last year's rise in hate crimes against Muslim and Arab Canadians after the horrific events of September 11th, along with the continued scapegoating of Jews and backlash against immigrants and refugees, showed us just how close to the surface racism still is in Canada today.

Mr Fulford facetiously refers to the anti-racism "industry", implying that anti-racism organizations exist to make money from others' oppression, or that somehow the efforts of human rights and anti-racism workers should not be supported. Surely he realizes that these are not-for-profit organizations, staffed primarily by volunteers and/or individuals who are dedicated to preserving the values that Canadians hold dear. We should be grateful to those who continue to work tirelessly to keep racism in check and to promote human rights for all Canadians, the work that keeps Canada at the forefront in the rankings of the UN. We celebrate along with Robert Fulford when we document the positive strides that have been made in Canada in the last few decades. But rather than denigrate those who have helped make that happen, we should throw our support behind legitimate anti-racism and human rights organizations and programs, so that they may continue to assist victims where needed and to enure we do not lose hard won ground.

Yours truly,

The Hon. Lincoln M. Alexander
Chair , The Canadian Race Relations Foundation

The Canadian Race Relations Foundation

'Contrary to anti-Semitism (...), anti-Ziganism – which regarding it's construction and functioning partly works similarly to anti-Semitism – is most of the time unquestionably considered natural,' concludes Änneke Winckel in her recent study on anti-Ziganism – hostility and injustice towards Roma – on different levels. The German researcher also provides an analysis of the ongoing construction of a clichéd picture of the Roma and studies the portrayal of Roma by the media along with numerous examples of obstacles and discrimination by public authorities. While the registration of racial groups was publicly condemned in post WWII Germany, registration of Roma continued. The province of Bavaria systematically registered 'travelling persons' (Landfahrer) – another description of Sinti and Roma – until 1999, when the use of that list was to be re-considered. The same federal state used up until recent years – according to a report by the Council of Europe –descriptions of suspects like 'Sinti and Roma', 'Negroid' and 'Western'- or 'Eastern-Prussian' in criminal cases.

Another example focuses on the registration of Roma from the late 80s. Information about Roma refugee children in a social pedagogical project in the city of Cologne was illegally registered, passed on to other authorities and later used in connection with the expulsion of the respective families. In 1995 a German court in the city of Bochum ruled that Roma were not to be considered as 'averagely suitable tenants' because they 'traditionally could not be considered as settled'. In 1997 the minister of justice of the federal state said he had 'understanding' for the criticism by the Roma, however he neither considered the decision as racist, nor did he want to make a case against the judge in question.

‘Things are improving on a public level. Again and again we see positive attempts, however in everyday practise hardly anything changes. It is rather frightening what is going on and what kind of arguments are used,' Änneke Winckel says to Eurolang. The researcher, who now works at the NS-Documentation Centre in Cologne, sees two possible ways of trying to improve the situation. On a local level ‘the only possibility is to consistently put pressure upon authorities via the provincial- or national- Council of Sinti and Roma.' Organising themselves is the most important means of improving the situation, according to Winckel. International statements, for example by the Council of Europe are, however, important too: ‘Even though most of the argumentation stays on the level of rhetoric, the Council of Sinti and Roma can refer to this,' the researcher explains. In Germany Sinti and Roma are recognised as a national minority, however in contrast to some of the three other national minorities, they are not mentioned in constitutions or other treaties on either provincial or national level.

While the debate about whether Europe should have one or two presidents, and a strong or a weak Commission, has entered the public arena, the troubled question of religion is still being discussed behind closed doors in the Convention's presidium. A submission signed by 19 members of the Convention asking for a "religious reference" in a future EU constitution is being examined by the 13-member presidium. Initiated by Joachim Würmeling, a German conservative MEP, the submission asks that an article should be included which says: "The Union values shall include the values of those who believe in God as the source of truth, justice, good and beauty as well as of those who do not share such a belief but respect these universal values arising from other sources." The signatories are members of conservative parties across Europe. Dr Würmeling told the EUobserver that the EU is "not only a union of market and money but also of values and this should be reflected in the constitution." He added that a religious reference is not an "attempt to make people believe who don't" or to impose a "specific political programme."

Any text on religion difficult
A spokesperson for Convention president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing admitted the submitted text was "being discussed" and said any text on religion was "very difficult ... to word indeed." He went on to add that the Convention had received "letters and contributions from all parts of society" on the issue and stressed the need to be "non-discriminatory." The Convention plenary "will have a discussion when we have the written articles on the table," said the spokesman. The normal course of events in the Convention, however, is that the discussion takes place first and is then followed by a formulation of the articles.

Many Europeans are non-religious
Keith Porteous Wood, director of the National Secular Society which campaigns for "freedom from religious privilege" said "a very large proportion of the European population is non-religious. We view with concern the attempts to include references to God or Christianity .... and see it as an attempt to increase the influence of religion in the internal workings of the EU." His organisation is one of many petitioning the Convention on the religion question. In November last year the Pope himself spoke on the matter asking the constitution makers not to forget the "cement of that extraordinary religious, cultural and civic heritage that has made Europe great down the centuries." The Convention plenary is set to touch on religious matters during its plenary session on values at the end of February.

Three Tibetans refugees, including two teenagers, who were arrested while attempting to transit through Nepal to India, were each given three-year prison sentences by a Nepalese court on January 8, 2003. 15-year-old Yanglha Tso is currently in the female unit of Kathmandu's Central Prison while Samdup, age 15, and Tashi, age 30, both male, are in Dili Bazaar Prison. The three Tibetans from Amdo Labrang in Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (Gansu Province) were arrested on December 13, 2002, in Boudha, Kathmandu, a predominently Tibetan area. They were taken to the Immigration Department jail after spending three nights in Boudha police department holding cells.

On December 17, the Immigration Department court transferred the three to prison while an investigation into their case was conducted. On January 8, the three were taken back to the Immigration Department court and without any translators provided by the Nepalese court, were fined a total of Nepalese rupees 29083.52 ($372). The Nepalese court paper said that failing to "pay the sum total in full, the individuals must remain in jail for three years for being illegally in Nepal and not paying the visa fees." "These arrests are most discouraging as they followed what we believed to be useful meetings with Nepalese officials," said Mary Beth Markey, U.S. Executive Director for the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), who just returned from Nepal and India.

"Of course, China is exerting pressure on Nepal with regard to its handling of Tibetan refugees, but the United States has certainly made clear its concerns for their safe transit," Markey continued. "We still look for Nepal to return to a balanced approach, as reflected in the gentlemen's agreement with the UNHCR." Markey and Kelley Currie, ICT's Director of Government Relations, led a December congressional staff delegation to the region and held meetings with Nepalese officials who deal with Tibetan refugee issues. Since 1989 there has been an informal arrangement with the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that Nepal would allow the transit of new arrivals through Nepal to Tibetan exile communities in India. In the past this agreement has been referred to by Nepalese officials and human right monitors as the "Gentleman?s Agreement."

However, when ICT asked the Director General of the Immigration Department, Subarna Lal Shrestha, about the agreement after the most recent prison sentencing, Shretha told ICT, "There is no such agreement." In response to inquiries made by ICT as to why these three newly-arrived refugees were not handed over to the UNHCR as is the usual practice, Mr. Shrestha said that "adequate concern was not shown in due time, therefore we acted completely in line with Nepal?s immigration law."

Including these three newly-arrested Tibetans, there are now a total of 13 Tibetan refugees serving prison sentences between three and ten years forbeing in Nepal illegally. Fines for the other ten range between U.S. $1,600-2,700. Tibetan support groups in Nepal believe that payment of the fines to gain release of these refugees would initiate a trend that could encourage further arrests of Tibetan refugees. Rather, a political resolution is attempting to be sought to address the rising numbers of Tibetan refugees being jailed by the Nepalese Department of Immigration which works under the Nepalese Ministry of Home.

ICT is asking the United States and other governments with representation in Nepal to urge the UNHCR and the Nepalese government to work in league so that these incidents are avoided. In the case of arrests and summary legal proceedings, ICT urges leniency so that high fines that might be paid for humanitarian resons do not result in the impression of extortion and increase tension among Tibetans and Nepalese.
International Campaign for Tibet Europe

The Geneva-based United Nations Committee against Torture has found the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) in violation of several provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) and the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) announced today in Podgorica. The Committee did so on the basis of an application submitted jointly by the ERRC, HLC, and attorney Dragan Prelevic, on behalf of 65 Romani men, women and children, and in relation to a 1995 incident concerning the total destruction of an entire Romani settlement in the town of Danilovgrad, Montenegro. (Hajrizi Dzemajl et al. v. the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, CAT/C/29/D/161/2000)

On April 14 and 15, 1995, following an alleged rape of a local non-Romani girl by two Romani youngsters, several hundred non-Roma gathered and, with the acquiescence of the municipal authorities and the police proceeded to destroy the Romani settlement in Bozova Glavica, Danilovgrad. Police simply stood by and did nothing as the pogrom unfolded. The Roma were able to flee but their homes and other belongings were ultimately burned or otherwise destroyed. According to newspaper reports, the day after the pogrom the then President of the Danilovgrad Municipal Assembly went out of his way to praise those who took part in the anti-Roma violence, declaring publicly that the citizens of Danilovgrad "know how to punish when their honor and dignity are at stake". Several days following the incident, the debris of the Roma settlement was cleared away by heavy construction machines of the Public Utility Company, thus obliterating all traces of the existence of Roma in Danilovgrad. In fear for their lives, the Danilovgrad Roma fled the town and moved to the outskirts of Podgorica where most still live under terrible conditions and in abject poverty. Moreover, in the aftermath of the incident, several Roma were fired from the jobs they held in Danilovgrad, under the excuse that they had stopped coming to work. The fact that the Roma had to leave the town in mortal fear was clearly not taken into account by their employers. With regard to the pogrom itself, and despite a preliminary investigation, no one was ever indicted. Similarly, the labor dispute for wrongful termination of employment and the civil case for damages, both filed by Danilovgrad Roma, are still pending. Hence, more then seven years following the incident, the Romani victims of the Danilovgrad tragedy have yet to receive any redress whatsoever.

On November 11, 1999, on behalf of 65 Romani victims of the Danilovgrad Pogrom, the ERRC, HLC, and attorney Dragan Prelevic jointly filed an application with the UN Committee against Torture. On November 21, 2002, the Committee rendered its decision, finding that "the burning and destruction of houses constitute … acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment … [as well as that] … the nature of these acts is further aggravated by the fact that some of the complainants were still hidden in the settlement when the houses were burnt and destroyed, the particular vulnerability of the alleged victims and the fact that the acts were committed with a significant level of racial motivation". In addition, the Committee found that the police, although they were aware of the danger and were present at the scene of the events, did not take any steps to protect the complainants, thus implying their acquiescence with the pogrom that ensued. The Committee reiterated its concerns about "inaction by police and law-enforcement officials who fail to provide adequate protection against racially motivated attacks when such groups have been threatened". The Committee stressed that, despite the participation of several hundred non-Roma in the events and the presence of a number of police officers, no participant or police officer was ever brought to trial. It requested that authorities conduct a proper investigation into the incident, prosecute and punish those responsible, and provide redress to the victims. The authorities are to inform the Committee within 90 days of the steps taken to comply with its decision.

This landmark ruling, described by Gloria Jean Garland, ERRC Legal Director, as the single most important decision ever adopted by the UN Committee against Torture, is of particular significance to Roma but is also of more general relevance to all other victims of human right abuse. On this occasion, the Committee made clear that torture, inhuman and/or degrading treatment or punishment has to be seen in a positive obligations context. States have a duty not only to refrain from such acts themselves, but also to prevent and suppress human rights violations between private individuals as well as to provide redress to victims of abuse perpetrated by non-state actors.
©European Roma Rights Center

On January 20, there will be a one-day meeting of the UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) to select a new chairman. By UN tradition, the chairmanship of the CHR rotates among the five regional groups. Also by tradition, the country nominated by that regional group is approved for the chairmanship by acclamation of the 53 member body. This year is Africa's turn, and they have chosen Libya. The United States has announced that it will protest by calling for a vote.

The United States appears to be the only member of the upcoming CHR not to silently acqui escence to the nomination of a repressive dictatorship to head the Human Rights Commission. Displaying "arrogant unilateralism" and utter disrespect for protocol, the US has decided to break a hallowed UN tradition in order to protest a Libyan chairmanship. While unprecedented, the US decision to call for a vote is consistent with the UN's Rules of Procedure: "All elections shall be held by secret ballot, unless, in the absence of any objection, the commission decides to proceed without taking a ballot on an agreed candidate or state." Yet even a secret ballot may not embolden member-states to object to a state which reportedly countenances slavery and slave-trading within its borders. Libya, or one of its many friends on the CHR, may table a motion to unblind the vote after the fact. If there are more votes for Libya than there are self-respecting countries, perhaps the US will move to unblind the results? And then we might see who voted to bestow the honor of chairing the CHR to a government that denies its citizens any political and civil rights.

A Libyan intelligence agent was convicted in 2001 for the terror attack on Pan Am 103, murdering 271 people including citizens of the following CHR member-states: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Ireland, Japan, Poland, South Africa, and Sweden. Will any of these countries publicly object to Libya's candidacy to lead the human rights debate? In 1996 a French court indicted six Libyans with ties to the government (including Qaddafi's brother-in-law) for the bombing of a French airliner that killed 171 people. Does the Quai d'Orsay have no opinion about the propriety of Libya heading the CHR?

The African group has the right to choose their nominee without interference, but not without criticism. In voting for Libya, some members will argue that they do so out of respect for the African choice. If the African Group had chosen Sudan or Congo ­ two of the worst human rights disaster areas of the last decades and both members of the Commission ­ could any diplomat make the same argument with a straight face?

Voting together, a "democracy caucus" of CHR members from Western and Eastern Europe, Latin America (minus Cuba), plus the US, Australia, Canada, Japan, and South Korea could defeat the nomination of Libya. It won't happen, but the citizens and media of these countries ought to be asking why not.
©UN Watch

Najat Al-Hajjaji of Libya Elected Chairperson by Secret Ballot of 33 in Favor and 3 Opposed, with 17 Abstentions

The Commission on Human Rights -- meeting this morning under a new procedure two months in advance of its annual six-week session -- elected Najat Al-Hajjaji of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya as Chairperson for 2003, along with three Vice-Chairpersons and a Rapporteur. Ms. Al-Hajjaji was elected by a secret ballot of 33 in favour and 3 opposed, with 17 abstaining among the Commission's 53 member countries. The vote, requested by the United States, was unusual -- Chairpersons are usually elected by acclamation. In an address following the ballot, Ms. Al-Hajjaji said among other things that the Commission must send a message that it would deal with human rights in all countries, and not just some of them; that it would take into account in its activities the world's many different religious, cultural and historical backgrounds; and that among its tasks was to affirm the universality, indivisibility, and complementarity of human rights

Selection of the Commission's Bureau in mid-January follows on a Commission decision last year and was spurred in part by 1994 and 1997 recommendations of the Economic and Social Council. The procedure is intended to enable the Commission to work more efficiently by having the Bureau in place well before the annual session begins. Elected Vice-Chairpersons without a vote were Prasad Kariyawasam of Sri Lanka, Jorge Voto-Bernales of Peru, and Mike Smith of Australia. Chosen Rapporteur, also without a vote, was Branko Socanac of Croatia. In a brief address before the vote, outgoing Chairman Krzysztof Jakubowski said among other things that the Commission, while it had its imperfections, constituted "a sort of human rights global parliament" and its dignity had been and should remain the basis of its approach to its work.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Sergio Vieira de Mello, also speaking briefly, reviewed his recent mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and to Angola, lauded the Commission's new procedure for early election of a Bureau, and said it was important for the Commission to demonstrate that it could manage with wisdom, speed and restraint its procedural business so as to create the best possible spirit and conditions for addressing and resolving the many substantive issues on its agenda. The Commission's rules of procedure allow only a secret ballot to be requested to contest a nomination for Chairperson. Explanations of vote are not allowed afterward as they are for public ballots. The fifty-ninth session of the Commission on Human Rights will take place from 17 March through 25 April.

Statement of Outgoing Chairperson
Krzysztof Jakubwski, outgoing Chairperson, said the innovation of electing the bureau early in the year was an important step for improving the efficiency and impact of the Commission's annual session. What was at stake now was the vision of the Charter of the United Nations of a world of peace and justice, grounded in respect for human rights and in economic and social progress; the Commission had always maintained the message that gross human rights violations could not be tolerated -- by whomsoever committed. It had stood up for economic and social rights, for equality and dignity worldwide. Its proceedings must be effective, dignified, equitable and statesmanlike. There had been many stories in the media about today's events, Mr. Jakubowski said. Whatever the outcome, he earnestly appealed for all to maintain intact the dignity of the Commission. At the end of the day, all must be able to go forward working together for the protection of human rights. The membership of the Commission must never lose sight of this sacred duty. He was sure that others hoped as he did that this would be a business-like affair. He very much hoped that requests for the floor would be kept to an absolute minimum. He also appealed to everyone present to give the new Chairperson the benefit of a cooperative and dignified start. The Commission had its imperfections, without a doubt, but its sessions also constituted a sort of human rights global parliament. The dignity of the Commission had been and should remain the basis of its approach to its work.

Address of High Commissioner for Human Rights
Sergio Vieira De Mello, High Commissioner for Human Rights, said today was an important one -- it would lay the groundwork both in form and tone for the fifty-ninth session of the Commission. As everyone knew, he had returned just yesterday from a mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola. In order to attend today's meteing, he had regretfully not carried out a planned visit to Burundi. The Democratic Republic of the Congo was facing a unique situation where it could make a choice between continuing a disastrous conflict ripe with extensive human rights violations, misery, and the pillage of natural resources, or could follow the path of peace opening the way for reconciliation, an end to impunity, and the reconstruction of democratic institutions. It was vital for all parties to the conflict, including neighboring countries, to implement without delay the wide-ranging and inclusive peace agreement concluded in Pretoria last 17 December. In Angola, he had witnessed the immediate dividends resulting from the end of hostilities between the Government and UNITA, Mr. Vieira de Mello said; millions of displaced persons and demobilized combatants had finally returned to their homes and had begun to resume normal live. The country was in the course of establishing an electoral process that would launch the foundations for a new democratic life. The country still had to be rebuilt, and he had assured the Government and Angolan civil society of the will of the United Nations to help with the development of a culture, political system, and institutions propitious for human rights. For all the impressive work that had taken place within the human rights community in Geneva, he remained concerned by the ignorance in the world at large as to what was done here, the High Commissioner said; it was important for this Geneva community to open up to those on the outside -- it was their rights, after all, that the human rights community was working to develop and safeguard. Today offered a unique opportunity for the Commission to demonstrate that it could manage with wisdom, speed and restraint its procedural business so as to create the best possible spirit and conditions for addressing and resolving the many substantive issues on its agenda. He thanked the outgoing Chairman and his colleagues in the Bureau for guiding the Commission with considerable skill and determination through a year which had not been an easy one.

Statement of Incoming Chairperson
Najat Al-Hajjaji, new Chairperson of the Commission, said today's meeting two months before the normal opening of the Commission's annual session was an important innovation; it would enable the Bureau to get down to work in an efficient and organized manner. Her country was African, and it had an Islamic culture; it had been the site of great historical empires -- Egyptian, Phoenician, and Greek, as well as Islamic. Monuments from that past remained. Women played a major role in life and Government in Libya, and the country took its inspiration from the principles of the United Nations. She would make every effort to be open to new ideas and initiatives. The Commission's agenda was a heavy one, and she would need the full participation and cooperation of everyone -- members, observer countries, non-governmental organizations and the Secretariat. The task of all was to affirm the universality, indivisibility, and complementarity of human rights, to give the Commission credibility, and to send a clear message to all those who were watching the Commission and awaiting the results of its work. The message must be that the Commission would deal with human rights in all countries, and not just some of them, and that it would take into account in its activities the world's many differences and its many different religious, cultural and historical backgrounds.

Statement on request for a vote
Sipho George Nene (South Africa) said the call for a vote on the Chairperson nominee placed the Commission and the African Group in particular in a very difficult and unenviable position. It was regrettable that the U.S. delegation had opted for the extreme method of demonstrating its non-endorsement of the African Group's candidate. Since the decision to propose Ambassador Al-Hajjaji had been taken by the highest political organ of the African Union, the group had no choice but to respond to the political challenge posed by the subjection of the election to a vote. For 46 years the tried and tested practice of the unanimous election of the Chair of the Commission had contributed positively in setting a solid foundation for the proceedings of the Commission. This reliable practice had been violated today. It was the Group's hope that this unfortunate act would not be emulated in the future. The right of regional groups to present candidates of their choice should be respected. Great efforts had been made to persuade the U.S. to use other available methods of expressing its displeasure. Members of the Commission were urged to demonstrate their confidence in the tried and tested methods of the past by voting for the African candidate with a resounding majority.

Press watchdogs are to investigate the Sun following complaints about a satirical feature on asylum seekers, yardies and drug dealers who, the paper claimed, are flourishing "under New Labour". One week into her job as Sun editor, Rebekah Wade provoked accusations of racism with the paper's controversial reinterpretation of the much-loved children's characters the Mr Men. The press complaints commission has already received more than a dozen complaints over the feature in today's Sun, which presents seven new Mr Men-style characters the tabloid claims "reflect life under New Labour". "We'll look at the complaints on their merits. We don't deal with issues of taste but can look at issues of inaccuracy or discrimination," said a PCC spokeswoman.The bulk of the complaints the PCC has received so far refer specifically to racism, the spokeswoman added.

The "Mr Men" characters include Mr Asylum Seeker, portrayed as a toothless vagabond seeking a country where everything is free; Mr Yardie, a black gun-toting Rastafarian smoking a joint; and Mr Albanian Gangster, who carries a knife and invites men to come and visit his "friends' sisters". Continuing a theme Wade pursued relentlessly at the News of the World, where she pioneered a campaign to "name and shame" paedophiles, the characters also include Mr Paedophile, who has been let out of prison and given a house next to a school. His neighbours know nothing of his past. Wade has made it clear she has no intention of banishing topless models from the Sun - she wore a Page 3 badge on her first day in the office - but that has not stopped her paper from lampooning glamour model Jordan. "Little Miss Jordan", according to the Mr Men feature, let her boobs grow so big they popped.

All newspapers are subject to the PCC's code of conduct, which outlaws "prejudicial or pejorative reference to a person's race, colour, religion or sexual orientation" under clause 13, which deals with discrimination. Under clause one, which concerns accuracy, the code stipulates newspapers must not publish "inaccurate, misleading or distorted material including pictures" and adds that while papers are "free to be partisan", they "must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact". "We haven't had any complaints so far. If we receive any formal complaints we will respond then," said a spokeswoman for the Sun. A spokeswoman for the commission for racial equality said it had received one complaint but, as the body has no power over of the media, it had redirected the complainant to the PCC.

Guardian special reports on Race and the Media

©The Guardian

The Netherlands votes Wednesday in national elections that are revolutionary in terms of pushing back the limits of what European politics is comfortable in discussing. With political correctness here in shreds, and multiculturalism often defined for the time being more as a problem than as an enrichment, the Dutch are basically choosing from mainstream candidates who have all marked out ground rules for how Muslim immigrants must integrate into and assume the obligations of the Dutch humanist tradition. With millions of Arabs, Pakistanis and Turks now living in France, Britain and Germany, the issue of their integration is one of Europe's most acute concerns - and least comfortable subjects for debate. In elections in France and Germany last year, traditional parties virtually fled dealing with the question in terms of names and numbers, preferring vague discussions of "difficult neighborhoods" and promises about more "security."

But in Holland, all the big parties, left and right, are articulating the very specific concern that Dutch democracy not be drowned in a separate-but-equal multicultural broth. In detail, that means immigrants' acceptance of what are called the majority's "norms and values," use of the Dutch language, and respect for women and homosexuals. For the Christian Democrats, residence permits would go only to immigrants who successfully complete an integration course, including competency in the Dutch language. For those immigrants already in the Netherlands, the Labor or Social Democrat Party would bar entitlement to social services without passage of the integration course. The Liberals want an eventual bar against the entry of foreign imams, or Islamic religious leaders, with the explanation that the Netherlands will have formed enough of its own. Decried as a demagogue, and stigmatized by the left elsewhere in Europe as a rightist bogeyman, Pim Fortuyn, the populist who was murdered last May - an animal rights activist has been charged with the crime - nonetheless profoundly changed politics here by acknowledging what was so uncomfortably on the electorate's mind, and by making it seem a no longer shameful subject for discussion.

The left-of-center newspaper De Volkskrant described the particularity of the Dutch situation:
"Until recently," wrote Martin Sommer, "the dominant feeling was that the multicultural society was not only a fact but a plus in our existence. Whoever talked about conflicting cultures and failed integration quickly placed himself outside the established order. Because of Fortuyn's death, the roles were abruptly reversed. The multicultural network has unraveled." The election campaign has demonstrated that it is now O.K. for the Dutch to say they are worried by population trends, involving Moroccans and Turks, that point to the country's four main cities moving toward foreign, and probably Islamic, majorities. According to Frits Bolkestein, the European commissioner and a leading member of the Liberal Party, it is also no longer a touchy matter to talk about disproportionate numbers of Muslims in crime statistics or the prison population. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, the Social Democratic mayor of Amsterdam hardly felt discomfort about publicly asking the government what provisions the Dutch Army was making in the event of riots relating to the situation in the Middle East. And last week, a vocational training school in Amsterdam, like one in The Hague whose students with foreign backgrounds make up about half of its enrollment, ordered that only Dutch be spoken on the premises.

Strikingly, the traditional middle-ground left, a cousin of France's Socialists, Britain's Labour Party, and Germany's Social Democrats, speaks in an entirely new register. Klaas de Vries, interior minister in the last Social Democratic-led government, said in an interview: "We're now describing real problems with the most accurate words at our command. If we see a problem in an ethnic group that bothers our society, we no longer try to tuck it away. Everything that was taboo, politically correct, is now on the table." The Netherlands remained a multicultural society, de Vries said, but the emphasis was now both on the rights "and obligations" of newcomers to the country. The big change, he indicated, was in his party's recognition that in the view of "the traditional part of the population, the problem was getting out of hand. It was very inflammatory and very dangerous." Indeed, the only the characteristic that distinguishes the big parties of the left and right now, said De Volkskrant, is a little less severity in the left's view of how to sanction violations of the "norms and values" whose defense polls describe as uppermost on voters' minds. The evolution is such that it is referred to in television debates as the "New Politics."

Those polls gave conflicting reports at the weekend about whether the Christian Democrats or Social Democrats would be the leading vote-getters. A coalition government between the two parties appears possible, with the Liberals becoming a conceivable third element. Its leader's message co-opted and cleaned up at the edges, Fortuyn's party has shrunken to virtual insignificance. Last May, when the old politics were still in sway (and after Fortuyn's murder), a coalition, including the populist's party, ousted the government that had been led by the Social Democrat Wim Kok. Incoherent and amateurish, that grouping imploded after 87 days. The mainstream parties subsequently picked up the essential pieces of the Fortuyn discourse, rubbed off some of the rough edges, and returned to the debate with a political sound unknown to the Netherlands' neighbors. Joao Verela, a member of what remains of Fortuyn's party, said: "We dared to take a step and everybody jumped on us for it. Three months later, everybody agrees. Politically speaking, it's clever. They grab our strong points, and we suddenly look like mice. It's fascinating."

At the same time, there have been expressions of concern from Muslim groups in the Netherlands about the overall trend. Although they live in one of Europe's strongest democratic cultures, and the parties explicitly reject a reading of their views that makes Muslims or Islam suspect or subjects of divisiveness, Moroccan immigrants in particular have complained of newspaper and television reports stigmatizing them. A group called Change of Course: NL issued a declaration last week asking, "Do you realize that in the morning thousands of Moroccans open their newspapers hoping for once that there wouldn't be news of Moroccans, Muslims or foreigners?" In fact, there are about 700,000 Muslim immigrants in the Dutch population of approximately 15 million. In terms of security, it makes the new political frankness here a rather less fraught undertaking than it might be in France with 4.7 million Muslims, Germany with 3.2 million, Britain with 2.4 million. While de Vries said Dutch voters had no particular awareness of the exceptional aspects of their election debate - he personally agreed with the premise that it was unique in Europe - Bolkestein insisted in an interview that it would soon be coming to the rest of the EU countries. "It will go through Europe; you just can't look past reality," Bolkestein said. "Reality will enforce itself on politics just as it has in Holland. Politicians can't escape. It's a pity that politicians in France and the U.K. have not come to grips with it. Because otherwise it will explode."
©International Herald Tribune

The party founded by the murdered anti-immigration campaigner Pim Fortuyn suffered a crushing defeat last night in a cliff-hanger election that was destined to restore the dominance of the established parties in the Netherlands. Eight months after the assassination of Mr Fortuyn, early results from yesterday's election showed the Christian Democrats (CDA) enjoying a narrow lead over the opposition Labour party (PvdA). With 98 per cent of the votes counted, the Christian Democrats were on course to win 44 seats, two more than the PvdA on 42, with the VVD liberals on 28. The far-right party Mr Fortuyn founded, Lijst Pim Fortuyn (LPF), which went from nowhere to secure 26 seats last May, looked certain to retain just eight.

The party with the largest number of seats will be invited to form a government. With the race so tight, it was impossible to predict whether Jan Peter Balkenende, 46, the outgoing Christian Democrat premier, would retain his post. Although the PvdA's campaign was fronted by Wouter Bos, 39, its telegenic leader, he has said he does not want the job of Prime Minister. If the PvdA wins the most seats, its candidate for Prime Minister will be the mayor of Amsterdam, Job Cohen, 55, who would become the first Jewish premier of the Netherlands. Given the closeness of the result, one strong possibility is that the two biggest parties will be forced to take part in a "grand coalition".

Last night's vote illustrates the remarkable revival of the PvdA, which was the biggest casualty of last May's elections when it was ejected from government after almost 10 years in office. But it also underlines the collapse of the LPF. Last May Mr Fortuyn's anti-immigration party won 1.6 million votes and became the second-biggest force in parliament on a wave of sympathy after its leader's death. But the LPF, riven by constant feuding, proved impossible coalition partners and the government in which it was a vital component lasted just 87 days in office. With the established parties latching on to Mr Fortuyn's themes of law and order, immigration and security, the LPF has been confined to minor status. The LPF is now out of the running as a serious force. Many of its former supporters seemed undecided about how to vote. Floating voters, said to make up as much as 30 per cent of the population, jammed an internet site in a late search for advice. By late afternoon, nearly three million were said to have logged on to www.stemwijzer.nl ("vote barometer"), on which party manifestos were outlined and poll trends compared. It was also reported that a record of 3.2 million viewers watched the main six parties' leaders during their final round of combat on the television on Tuesday evening.

Voting began at 7.30am at 10,000 polling stations around the country and was reported to be brisk despite the cold weather and rainfall, torrential in some parts of the country. About 43 per cent of the electorate had voted by mid-afternoon, putting the country on course for participation similar to last May, when 79.1 per cent of the population turned out. Scores of people stood in line in Maastricht and Zwolle to wait for the polls to open, although polling stations in the big cities recorded slower starts. With polling booths almost washed out in some parts, the Christian Democrats seemed to be benefiting from the weather, with the party faithful braving the elements. Gerrit Zalm, leader of the VVD, which was part of the last government, appeared to be wrestling with the computerised voting system in his polling booth. After several tries, it still wasn't recording his vote. Meanwhile, the Socialist Party leader, Jan Marijnissen, said: "All that work and campaigning and then it's all over in two seconds." Television cameras trained on voters at the polling station near the former home of Mr Fortuyn in Rotterdam found there were still some disciples to be found. Almost one in three voters claimed they would be voting for his successors. But it was far from a nationwide trend.
© Independent Digital

Dutch voters split their support between two centrist parties and relegated an anti-immigration party to the far-right fringe in national elections, setting the stage for months of bargaining to assemble a governing coalition. The Christian Democrats edged out a resurgent Labor Party by a 44-42 margin in the 150-seat parliament in Wednesday's vote, ensuring that Jan Peter Balkenende will remain prime minister for a second term. But lacking enough support from like-minded pro-business parties, Balkenende appeared to have little choice than to strike a deal with Labor, his party's traditional center-left rival. Balkenende, 46, refused to consider another alliance with the anti-immigration party of murdered populist Pim Fortuyn, blaming its internal chaos and power struggles for the collapse of his first government after just 87 days in office.

The road to a coalition pact with Labor looked long and bumpy. ``If you talk about finance, welfare, education and health care, we have great differences,'' Balkenende said after Wednesday's vote. Reaching an agreement with Labor couldn't be done quickly -- if it could be done at all, he said. Although the two parties have governed together before, most recently in the late 1980s, there was no guarantee they could come to terms again. After the 1977 election, they negotiated for six months before abandoning the attempt. One point of conflict was over foreign policy. Although it had not been a campaign issue, Labor Party leader Wouter Bos said in a postelection speech he would ``work to head off a war with Iraq.'' Balkenende's previous government had pledged to offer the United States logistical support in the event of war. Bos said an alliance of the two major parties was inevitable, and that Balkenende shouldn't waste time while the nation suffers from the global economic downturn. ``Other coalition possibilities are mathematically possible, but they would be extremely unwise. The voter has spoken very clearly: the only stable, two-party government is the Christian Democrats with Labor,'' Bos said.

Balkenende was a largely unknown political researcher and part-time university lecturer on Christian philosophy when he was chosen leader of his deeply divided Christian Democratic Alliance a few months before the 2002 election. Earlier, he held executive positions in a Christian television and radio broadcasting station and served on the municipal council of Amstelveen, a town outside Amsterdam. With his rimless glasses and haircut, he liked to joke about his resemblance to the movie character Harry Potter, a useful balance to his often stern, clipped manner and speech. Balkenende says his task is to restore confidence in government following the massive protest vote against the political elite last year expressed in the support for Fortuyn's party. Balkenende ``perfectly fit into the old Christian leadership tradition: solid, reliable, anything but innovative,'' said Dutch historian Henk te Velde on Radio Netherlands.

Although Fortuyn's party was sidelined, the anti-immigration, crime-busting legacy of the assassinated politician will be continued by the mainstream parties who have co-opted much of his platform. A dapper, gay newspaper columnist and academic, Fortuyn turned the quiet, consensus-based world of Dutch politics on its head by speaking openly about immigration problems and crime. He was shot dead by an animal rights activist nine days before elections last May.
©Associated Press

Less than two months after voters rejected an initiative that would have given Switzerland the most restrictive asylum laws in Europe, the Swiss government has signed an agreement aimed at curbing frivolous applications for political asylum. The agreement with Senegal, signed recently in Dakar, Senegal's capital, allows Switzerland to deport to Senegal any West African whose asylum application has been rejected and whose country of origin is not clear. Nearly all the 3,402 refugees from West Africa who arrived here in 2002 - more than twice the 1,627 who came in 2000 - have been denied political asylum, but fewer than 1 percent are thought to have given the authorities their true identities.

The Swiss authorities believe most West Africans come to Switzerland for economic reasons: to work or to take advantage of the nation's generous welfare benefits. They say the agreement is a first step in combating human traffickers operating out of West Africa, by signaling that those with no legitimate reason for claiming asylum will not be allowed to stay. Switzerland, with a population of 7.3 million, has the largest number of asylum seekers, per capita, in the developed world, according to UN statistics, and the number is rising. Switzerland's liberal asylum policy, which provides refugees with housing, food and schooling for their children, has emerged as a major issue going into the national election in October. Last year, the government spent nearly $700 million to care for the 93,741 people who have been granted asylum or whose applications are pending.

Most asylum seekers enter through Switzerland's porous borders with the help of traffickers. Typically, immigration officials say, they destroy their travel documents, passports and false visas before requesting refuge at a center inside the country's borders. Under the Senegal agreement, Swiss officials will accompany the rejected asylum seekers to Dakar and, working with African embassies there, try to identify their country of origin. If an identity cannot be established within 72 hours, the applicants will be sent back to Switzerland. Swiss officials are expecting a sharp rise in asylum seekers with the European Union's introduction this month of a fingerprint data bank to enforce a unified asylum policy. Refugees rejected for asylum in one member country will not be permitted to apply in another. Switzerland, which is not a member of the European Union, would be one of the few alternatives for refugees.
©International Herald Tribune

A Dutch gay rights campaigner is seeking a ban on a computer game in which players can shoot a variety of individuals, including homosexuals. Henk Krol, who is also editor of the leading Dutch gay newspaper Gay Krant, has asked prosecutors to prevent the game, Postal 2, from going on sale in Dutch toyshops in March. Mr Krol described the game as "disgusting" and said he hoped to make potential buyers aware of its content. But the chief executive of Running with Scissors, the Arizona-based software company which produced Postal 2, said that while players could shoot gays, they did not have to and could not gain any advantage by doing so. "It's definitely not anti-gay," Vince Desi told Reuters news agency. "You know what? It's a game - get over it."

Passive or aggressive?
Postal 2 is a new version of the earlier game Postal, which has been banned in Australia but is widely sold in the Netherlands. In Postal 2, the player is a character called Postal Dude, who lives in a town with a wide variety of people of different race, build and sexuality. Running with Scissors officials say the player can choose an active or passive role. "The real point is that you can play the game at either extreme, totally passive or completely aggressive, or anywhere in between, and the game will react appropriately," says RWS president Mike Riedel in explanatory notes on the game's website. Mr Krol said that while he did not think it possible to stop people buying the game from the website, his campaign would at least make them aware of what was involved. "A lot of these games are being bought by parents and grandparents and one of our goals is to get people to understand what they were buying," he said.
©BBC News

Percy MacLean clashed with institute's board over his focus on abuses in Germany

Only half a year after taking up his post, the first director of the new German Institute of Human Rights resigned last week after repeated clashes with the institute's board of directors over his tough stance on domestic civil rights issues. "There were certain disagreements on how detailed we should look into certain issues, not a dispute over whether domestic issues should be dealt with at all," Percy MacLean said in an interview with F.A.Z. Weekly. However, the board considered it "politically too explosive" to check whether the country actually complies with international human rights obligations, and instead wanted to restrict itself to merely scrutinizing the obligations, he added. "The institute is supposed to offer consulting services for politicians. This means for me also to give the impetus for better implementation."

The tax-financed institute was launched last March, based on a parliamentary decision in 2000. It is run by the director and a board, or curatorship, that includes representatives of political parties, ministries, rights organizations, the news media and academia. Six of the 12 board members with voting rights - government representatives are not allowed to vote - carried a vote of no-confidence in MacLean, prompting him to resign. "One of the main problems was that the director's independence is not guaranteed. You can accomplish such a task only if the director is completely independent," MacLean said. To ensure greater independence, he said, it should take more votes to oust the director.

The managing director of the human rights organization Pro Asyl, Günter Burkhardt, told F.A.Z. Weekly that MacLean's resignation was a "severe setback that plunges the institute into crisis. MacLean addressed the central human rights issues in Germany, such as deportation custody of one and a half years," Burkhardt said. His "forced resignation" questions the credibility of the federal government, because one can only stand up for human rights abroad credibly if one does so in one's own country, Burkhardt added. Barbara Unmüssig, the board's vice president and head of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, which is affiliated with the Green party, is temporarily running the institute. She confirmed that there had been major disputes with MacLean about how the institute should tackle various issues. The board particularly disliked MacLean's idea of involving the institute with individual cases of rights violations because these are already handled by other institutions, she said. Moreover, she said, it was not the institute's task to take a stance on labor issues. The institute will continue to look into rights violations in Germany and the implementation of international agreements, she said.

MacLean, 55, had made it his first act upon taking office to cite human rights violations within Germany, saying that this was the only credible way one could ask other countries to uphold these rights. He criticized Germany's deportation practices, its anti-terror laws and the way old and sick people are treated, calling for a complete review of legislation on foreigners and refugees and demanding research on the right to work. Among the contentious issues were the treatment of old people in Germany, for which the country is regularly reprimanded by the United Nations. It was considered by parts of the board to be a social issue and therefore not the institute's responsibility, MacLean said. Yet the institute's work was well received abroad, he continued, saying he hoped that his resignation would allow for a fresh start because the institute is "extremely important." MacLean, whose surname comes from a Scottish ancestor who arrived in what is now Poland in 1753, was born in the eastern German state of Thuringia. The former judge of Berlin's administrative court will now return to the bench. Unmüssig said the board had set up a working group to appoint a new director and review the institute's structure.
©Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Editors dub Britain a gangsters' haven as they make direct links between refugees and terrorism

David Blunkett's warning that British society was "like a coiled spring" on the issue of asylum seekers comes as the invective of newspapers such as the Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Express reaches new heights. The finding of the poison ricin in the home of asylum seekers, and the killing of special branch officer Stephen Oake during the investigation, has prompted some papers to directly link refugees with crime and terrorism. Teams of reporters have been asked to "stitch up" asylum seekers. A source at Kent police said he had received half a dozen calls from newspapers asking for examples of crimes committed by asylum seekers. Leader writers and columnists have been ordered to write damning commentaries. Rebekah Wade's first significant decision as the Sun's new editor has been to launch a "crusade" as the paper, perhaps unfortunately, termed it, against "Asylum Madness". The Mail has begun a series on "Asylum Britain", while the Express has proudly reproduced 20 of its front pages on the subject with the slogan "We told you so".

Organisations which work with asylum seekers such as the Refugee Council have looked on aghast. Fazil Kawani, the communications director of the council, said: "These reports give the impression that all asylum seekers are terrorists or criminals. We would urge the media to recognise that the overwhelming majority of asylum seekers do not engage in any criminal activity." The weekend press would indeed have made uncomfortable reading for a newly arrived asylum seeker.

Perhaps the most worrying would have been the News of the World which, with no irony, placed a column from David Blunkett warning about the myths surrounding refugees and terrorism opposite a report about the asylum seekers who live near the spot where DC Oake died. Beneath the headline Ghetto of Death the newspaper - which under Ms Wade's editorship notoriously ran a campaign to name and shame alleged paedophiles and was blamed for the vigilante attacks that followed - printed an aerial photograph of the area pinpointing where Algerians, Kosovans, Albanians and Iraqis are to be found. As News of the World readers pored over the details of where they could, if so inclined, find asylum seekers, Ms Wade was putting the finishing touches to her first campaign at the helm of the Sun. On Monday her paper, Britain's biggest selling tabloid, printed a series of claims under the headline Asylum Meltdown and urged: "Read this and get angry." The first "fact" set the tone: "Britain is now a Trojan horse for terrorism." The article pointed out that some of those arrested in the ricin investigation were "living free at the taxpayer's expense". The paper asked its readers: "If these facts get you mad, fill in the petition to force Tony Blair to address the growing crisis." A coupon for readers to complete and send back was included, with a line asking the prime minister to protect Britain "before it is too late". On Tuesday the Sun printed what was meant to be an amusing reinterpretation of the children's Mister Men characters and included a Mr Asylum Seeker and his friend Mr Albanian Gangster. The feature is now being investigated by the press complaints commission. By yesterday the tabloid was claiming "an army" of 50,000 readers who were backing its crusade.

Meanwhile the Daily Mail was tackling the issue with characteristic gusto. In an editorial on Tuesday it claimed Britain was a "haven" for "Albanian gangsters, Kosovan people smugglers and Algerian terrorists". It went on to criticise the "ruling classes" for refusing to debate the issue and the "McCarthyite tactics of the left who have sought to stifle honest debate by demonising anyone who has dared to draw attention to the crisis". On its news pages the Daily Mail focused on the revelation that hotels might be converted to house some of the asylum seekers. It printed a page of pictures of lovely country houses, including a £70m private house in Surrey which had a private cinema and five swimming pools, and suggested ingenuously that these would be suitable sites. The copy ran: "New arrivals will soon be asking for a copy of Country Life as well as details of how to claim benefits." The Express, which has been accused of racism for its stance on asylum, claimed on Wednesday: "The nightmare scenario of which we warned is here." But it is not only the tabloids which have stoked the debate. The editor of the Daily Telegraph, Charles Moore, argued after Mr Oake's death that Britain should withdraw from the European convention on human rights so that it could deport unwanted asylum seekers more easily. The British National party website might give food for thought for some editors. On it is a picture of an Express front page on asylum under the headline "British press helping spread the BNP message".
©The Guardian

A Danish scout group acknowledged it "may have crossed the line" by organizing a game of tag in which adults pretending to be Nazis chased children dressed as Jews around a phony concentration camp. The Danish Christian FDF scout group put up swastikas and Nazi-type signs and had the children wear yellow Stars of David as they were chased around the school yard at the Kongeaadal school, 161 miles southwest of Copenhagen. One sign had the German words "Arbeit macht frei," or "Work will set you free," the infamous inscription over the entrance of the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. "I was shocked," Johanna Christiansen, whose two daughters took part, told the Ekstra Bladet newspaper on Thursday. "It's wrong to expose children to this." Jes Imer, of the local FDF chapter, told the tabloid B.T. that organizers "may have crossed the line this time with a night game where Nazis chase Jews." "I don't know whether I should apologize," Imer told B.T. of the incident last weekend. "I didn't want the game to hurt anyone." The group of about 160 scouts, aged 11-14, included a dozen teenagers from the Danish-speaking minority in northern Germany.
©Associated Press

HANDS OFF! (Poland)
During its most recent session, the Sejm debated an amendment to the labor code. The amendment is intended to bring Polish regulations in line with European Union directives. The new code features a definition of sexual harassment. The bill submitted to the Sejm is aimed first and foremost at adjusting the labor code to conform with EU standards, which, according to the drafters of the bill, are quite beneficial to employees. Deputy Labor Minister Krzysztof Pater says that some proposals also bring labor law into compliance with the Polish constitution. Others complement the recent liberalization of the code and will help limit costs incurred by employers. The amendment did not stir up much controversy during the first reading. Deputies agreed that the regulations of the Polish labor code must accord with the norms valid in the EU. The only exception is the small Catholic National Movement, which put forward a motion for rejection of the bill, but the motion was defeated.

The bill extends the definition of discrimination at work. It prohibits discrimination on account of sex, age, disability, racial and ethnic descent, sexual orientation and religion. Moreover, this is the first time that the labor code contains a definition of sexual harassment. According to the bill, sexual harassment is "any unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature, whose purpose or result is humiliation or violation of an employee's dignity." It is this definition that evoked the strongest emotions among deputies. Its introduction into the code was praised by Tadeusz Cymanski (Law and Justice, PiS). Józef Zych (Polish Peasants' Party, PSL) expressed his concern that, like some Western European countries, Poland might fall into a sexual harassment obsession. The bill will now be reviewed by a Sejm committee. Sexual harassment is a popular subject in Poland, but so far there have been no large-scale scandals or lawsuits filed by harassed individuals. However, this might be because the labor code lacks a definition of harassment. "Touching, indecent proposals, even mailing images of a pornographic nature is sexual harassment if not welcomed by the other party," said Izabela Jaruga-Nowacka (Labor Union, UP), the government's commissioner for the equal status of women and men.

Under the amendment, the minimum time of leave from work has been extended from 18 to 20 days. When a new employee wants to take leave, they will no longer have to wait at least six months, as has been the case so far. There will no longer be separate principles concerning leave for seasonal workers. Employers will have to provide each employee with written information about their working hours, leave, and the terms and conditions of remuneration (not at the request of the employee, as under current regulations). Employees will be happy to know that from now on, each individual will be guaranteed a break between work shifts no shorter than 11 hours a day and 35 hours once a week. The code will also regulate the work of youths under 16 years of age. Hiring such an individual in the culture, arts, sport and advertising sectors will require permission from a legal guardian or a labor inspector.
©The Warsaw Voice

By Jeroen Bosch

In the campaign for the 22 January Dutch parliamentary elections, there are as many are 20 seats to be reclaimed for the mainstream parties as the right-wing liberal VVD, the ChristianDemocrat CDA, the social-democrat PvdA and the socialists from the SP battle to profit from the decline of the right-wing populist List Pim Fortuyn (LPF). The LPF, meanwhile, has been trying desperately to counter its big losses in the polls with a huge publicity campaign on television, radio and the advertising billboards and with anti-immigrant statement that stoke up racist tension.

The late Hans Janmaat from the extreme right-wing Centrum Democraten (CD) was once convicted for saying that "The Netherlands is full" but, now, ever since the late Pim Fortuyn aired similar views, it is acceptable. To such an extent, it appears, that VVD leader Gerrit Zalm was able to make the same kind of statement in a debate. The anti-immigrant trail, though, is still being blazed by the LPF whose boss Mat Herben ­ again party- leader after minister of Integration and Asylum Hilbrand Nawijn quit the post ­ recently stated that "There's only a place for real refugees in The Netherlands if, first of all, illegal immigrants are kicked out."

The fascist New National Party (NNP), in the meantime, failed to win a single council seat in local by-elections in Zwijndrecht, a town near Rotterdam. The NNP had hoped to win at least two seats but their zero result has forced them to back out of the general election contest. Now that the fascists have opted to avoid further humiliation, The extreme right-wing is now represented by ex-LPF star Winny de Jong's Conservatives.nl and her running mate Michiel Smit of the populist Leefbaar Rotterdam. Smit has been continuing his relentless attack on the multi-cultural society and is finding much sympathy in traditional extreme right-wing circles. Anti-fascists have revealed that Smit himself has been actively scratching around for support from older right-wing extremists and fascists in a bid to get nominations for his candidates.

For example, he asked Wim Vreeswijk, former leader of the extreme right-wing Nederlands Blok (NB) ­ the sister party of the Vlaams Block in Belgium ­ for a a list of party members and got it, while Marcel Rüter, leader of the fascist organisation, Voorpost, signed the nominations list for the Conservatives.nl. Similarly, fascists from the NNP, among them members of the LPF, have also signed up for and assisted Conservatives.nl. One of these NNP fascists demonstrated with the LPF's "Leger tegen Links"("Army against the left") outside the prison where Fortuyn's killer is being held, with a banner proclaiming "The reds have to die". Also supporting de Jong and Smit are some former leading CD figures and antisemites. Some of this extremist crew are members of and regular visitor to a rifle club, "Lisse", in Amsterdam, where CD activists used to gather for shooting practice.

The shaky electoral coalition in Rotterdam of the VVD, CDA and Leefbaar Rotterdam are less than happy with Smit's activities and his contacts with fascists while Smit himself is taking some of his Leefbaar Rotterdam councillors into the Conservatives.nl. This move marks what could well be the beginning of a bitter split between the radical and moderate rightists in Fortuyn's home town party. The fact that Conservatives.nl did not manage to get enough support to get the list in on all voting districts makes their chance of winning a parliamentary seat very small indeed, but the growing cooperation between the hardcore rightists of the Fortuyn movement and the traditional fascists might signal a step towards a new ­ and dangerous ­ movement.

Leefbaar Nederland (LN), Fortuyn's former party has already split after the party executive decided to nominate the millionaire Emile Ratelband as its main candidate. The media then focused ­ negatively ­ on this highly controversial and somewhat racist individual for several weeks and, eventually, he was kicked out the party, just before the closing for the nomination of election candidates. Despite this, Ratelband managed to found his own party within three days, assembling a list of 28 candidates and finding enough nominations to take part in all districts. In his party programme, Ratelband fulminates against immigrants and says he wants a re-establishment of the dominant Dutch culture and to take "the values of being Dutch into the constitution" and demands the "repatriation of persons with dual nationality who commit crime". Ratelband has also a vision for education in which, every morning, school lessons will have to start with the singing of the Dutch national anthem. "This," he was quoted as saying on Dutch TV, "is to show the irritating Moroccan youth who is the boss in The Netherlands".

No election has ever elicited so much attention from the media. Every evening there is are debate between the various party leaders while, during the day, all the party leaders are out in the streets campaigning, especially in Rotterdam where the Fortuyn movement began. The traditional right-wing extremist scene has been boosted by the overtures made to it by the likes of Smit but any attempt to translate that into street actions will be met by anti-fascists.

The trial of a leading German neo-Nazi, accused of praising the 11 September attacks on the United States, begins in Hamburg on Monday. The trial of Mr Mahler is seen in Germany as a warning by the authorities to the country's neo-Nazis. Horst Mahler, a leading ideologue of Germany's extreme-right National Democratic Party, stands accused of justifying an illegal act. Among the European allies in the international war against terror, it is arguably more important for Germany than many other countries to prove it is getting tough on extremism. Three out of four pilots that hijacked the planes used in the 11 September attacks once lived in Hamburg, as part of an autonomous al-Qaeda cell. To Germany's embarrassment, their plotting and planning remained undetected. Mr Mahler is not thought to be a member of al-Qaeda, but he is a prominent example of German right-wing extremists who applauded the events of 11 September for destroying what they describe as the common enemy.

'Justified warfare'
In an interview on German television shortly after the attacks, Mr Mahler described them as justified warfare. He said the perpetrators had his full sympathy. Germany terrorism experts fear right-wing extremists may join forces with Islamic fundamentalists. The trial of Mr Mahler is seen in Germany as a warning by the authorities to the country's neo-Nazis. The Mahler case runs concurrently to that in another Hamburg court, where a Moroccan student stands accused of helping the 11 September hijackers. His trial, which started late last year, is the first in Europe directly connected with the attacks.
©BBC News

An outspoken Muslim activist has earned the dubious distinction of being physically attacked twice in the same week on live Italian TV. Adel Smith, chairman of the Union of Italian Muslims, has sparked anger with his strongly anti-Christian and anti-Israel views. On Friday, more than 20 members of a neo-Fascist group stormed into the studios of Telenuovo, a local Verona TV station, attacking Mr Smith and his associate Massimo Zucchi during a live chat show. No-one in the studio appeared to do anything to prevent the assault.

Studio brawl
Mr Smith was roughed up and splattered with eggs, while Mr Zucchi suffered a broken cheekbone and a black eye. At least six of the attackers were arrested, while the other 17 were identified by the police. Local authorities said they were appalled by the neo-fascist attack on Mr Smith. Friday's attack followed a TV brawl last weekend between Mr Smith and Carlo Pelanda, a conservative columnist. The punch-up was broadcast live on Padua's Teleserenissima, another local station in the mainly conservative and deeply Catholic north-eastern region of Veneto. The fight between Mr Smith and Mr Pelanda started when the columnist slapped the Muslim leader during a heated debate on Israel.

Mainstream criticism
Other Italian Muslim leaders have distanced themselves from Mr Smith, who has reportedly disparaged the crucifix by describing it as "a little body hung on two pieces of wood". Mr Smith claims that his critics are not so much upset by his views, as by the fact that a Muslim is expressing them. Italy's mainstream umbrella group, the Union of Italian Muslim Organisations and Communities, released a statement last June saying that by making "offensive public statements against the Christian tradition," Adel Smith was "acting in stark contrast with the teaching of the Koran." Mr Smith says his union represents more than 5,000 people and that he plans to turn it into a political party. He has also declared his intention to run at the next European Elections.
©BBC News

A 26-year old man from Jordan was beaten up at Frankfurt/Oder's main train station early last Friday by a group of people. Two of the seven suspects in custody have admitted to having been involved in the attack, the Frankfurt/Oder prosecutor said on Wednesday. Xenophobia was behind the crime, according to one of the suspects. Their victim, a resident of France, had taken a train in Berlin to Frankfurt/Oder in eastern Germany assuming it was going to Frankfurt/Main. The attackers approached him while he was waiting for a train to take him back. Frankfurt/Oder's mayor Martin Patzelt said he would apologize to the victim in person. "I will make it clear that the citizens of this town should by no means be confused with the thugs at the station. The incident brings back memories of a bad period we thought we had behind us."
©Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

What Otto Schily calls a success, Pro Asyl calls an embarrassment

The number of people seeking asylum for the first time in Germany decreased by almost 20 percent to 71,127 in 2002, the lowest number since 1987. Interior minister Otto Schily said that this "positive" development was due mainly to preliminary effects from the yet-to-be passed immigration law, which attempts to steer and limit the number of asylum seekers entering Germany during the application process itself.

Asylum seeker advocates from Pro Asyl, a human rights organization for refugees in Germany, were outraged that Schily considered the development a success. Declining numbers were proof of insufficient asylum regulations, the association said, adding that the new immigration law, which was overthrown by the constitutional court late last year, would introduce further deficiencies to the system.

Numbers from all of the 10 top asylum-seeking nations were down in 2002. The significant decline in the number of asylum seekers from Iraq and Afghanistan mostly contributed to the overall drop in numbers. The decrease was strongest among asylum seekers from Afghanistan, with only 2,800 citizens from this country applying for asylum. This amounted to a year-on-year drop of more than 50 percent. The number of asylum-seekers from Iraq declined by more than 40 percent to around 10,000. The number of people from Turkey seeking asylum in Germany declined by nearly 12 percent to 9,575.

The number of cases that were officially recognized as being actually eligible for asylum showed a sharp decline, with only 1.8 percent of all cases gaining this status down from 5.3 percent in 2001. The Federal Office for the Recognition of Foreign Refugees did not, however, attribute this drop to a more rigid decision policy but instead to a number of old applications that were finally cleared out of the system. Only 2,379 of the approximately 130,000 cases that the Federal Office for the Recognition of Foreign Refugees decided upon in 2002 were granted asylum status. A further 4,130 applicants were granted protection from deportation.
©Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov wants in the nearest future to discuss the proposal for the visa free travel between Russia and the European Union. In an article, published on Saturday by a Russian daily Izvestia, Mr Ivanov stressed that this would be a difficult task, however it would show Russians that EU enlargement is not aimed against them and 'single Europe' is not just a political slogan. Mr Ivanov wrote that Russia expects an agreement for the negotiations in the nearest future. Earlier this year in August, the Russian President Vladimir Putin also suggested visa free travel between the EU and Russia, but he received no response from the EU.

EU enlargement has caused worries in Russia, especially for the future of Russia's Baltic Sea enclave of Kaliningrad. The foreign minister believes that visa free travelling would prove to the Russian people that a united Europe is not just a "political slogan or a diplomatic phrase, but an attainable reality."

The Greek EU presidency has picked the combating of illegal immigration and better integration of refugees into society to belong to their priorities for the next six months leadership of the European Union. The Greek social democrat PASOK government is under growing pressure at home to step up actions and combat clandestine and illegal immigration. With one in ten already being an immigrant in Greece the traditional hospitality towards guests is close to reaching its limits.

16 000 km coast and 3000 islands
Greece has 16,000 km of coast including 3000 islands under observation on behalf of the whole Schengen area and want to share the economic burden with the other EU countries. The country borders Albania, FYROM (the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia), Bulgaria and Turkey and an attack on Iraq is feared could result in a new wave of refugees. The Greek minister of public order, Michalis Chrysohoidis, explained when laying out the policies of the incoming EU presidency, that action programs for returning of refugees had to be stepped up and money for this purpose to be directed to those EU countries having the biggest needs. A common body to safeguard frontiers was also in the making and a pilot project together with non-EU countries in the Balkans to be started. In this process the Greeks also would like to include the Turks to prevent clandestine immigration, Mr Chrysohoidis explained after talks with the responsible EU Commissioner, Antonio Vitorino, in Athens on Friday. Coast guard sources told the Greek newspaper Kathimerini that the Merchant Marine Ministry has drafted a plan code-named Triton that calls for cooperation on three- or four-day joint operations along specific areas of Greece, Spain and Italy's maritime borders favored by organized migrant-smuggling rings. From Albania, hundred of thousands have already entered Greece and live illegally from cheap labour mainly in the agricultural sector or from organised crime, drug dealings and illegal human trafficking. Albanian children are received in the local Greek schools and some 350,000 people are in the process of registering and becoming legal citizens of Greece with the right to seek employment in the rest of the EU.

Looking to Brussels for solutions
Last autumn a conference in London focused on organised crime in the Balkans as the root of many problems in all of the European Union, something that the Greeks are keen to follow up during their EU presidency. Being a Balkan country and neighbor to some of the most troubled countries such as Bosnia, Serbia and Herzegovina, the government in Athens is looking to Brussels to find solutions. The Greek minister of public order questioned whether some of the Balkan countries were run by the politicians or rather under control of the criminals. Albanians are widely regarded as responsible for much of European drug dealing and the Albanian police force just does not function, the Greek minister claimed. In Kosovo, some 60% of the youth are unemployed with drug dealing, arms and human trafficking the only attractive alternative. "I have met seven Albanian counterparts and reached the same agreements with all seven. We have observed all our obligations, while they have not observed one single of theirs, simply because they change leadership every six months. And the same goes for the officers in the military forces", Mr Chrysohoidis claimed. 1 January 2003 was an important milestone for the EU when it started its first operation under the European Security and Defence Policy – the EU Police Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, slowly the Greeks as well as the EU have started to realise that political solutions rather than policing is needed in the Balkans. The major problem in the Balkans is political instability as there is little tradition of democratic governance and few politicians trained in democracy.

West Ham fans will protest against racism and the signing of Lee Bowyer outside Upton Park today, and plan to greet the midfielder's introduction to the crowd with a show of yellow cards. The cards bear the message "West Ham fans united against racism" and demonstrators will also distribute 5,000 leaflets saying they are "appalled" by the signing of Bowyer and calling on the club to "reaffirm its total commitment to anti-racism". The protest, to begin at 1.30pm, has been organised by fans forming under the name "West Ham fans united against racism". It will be attended by Suresh Grover, chairman of the National Civil Rights Movement and coordinator of the campaign for the family of Sarfraz Najeib, the Asian student at the centre of the case involving Bowyer and his former Leeds team-mate Jonathan Woodgate, in which Bowyer was acquitted.

"Sunday marks the third anniversary of the attack on Sarfraz, which nearly saw him killed," Grover said. "The National Civil Rights Movement will support any fair-minded action by West Ham fans, or people in east London, to ensure racism is stamped out of football altogether." Bowyer's £300,000 move from Leeds on Wednesday has stoked controversy and some West Ham fans have said they will not attend matches while the 26-year-old is there. The leaflet clarifies their opposition. "We are West Ham fans, lifelong supporters, proud of our club and proud too of the best East End traditions of opposition to all forms of racism," it states. "We are appalled at the club's decision to sign Lee Bowyer. "What message does this give to the local community? How are we to attract black and Asian fans to the Boleyn when we sign someone like Bowyer?

"Yes, we are in a desperate fight against relegation and times are tough but this is no reason to throw overboard the wonderful traditions of our club, nor undo all the good the club has done in building links to the local community." Although last August Bowyer denied being a racist he has otherwise been unforthcoming. One organiser, Graham Bash, said: "It would have been better if Bowyer had come out and made a statement from the outset saying: 'I renounce racism and I want to build links with the local community.' We would have bitten our tongues. But he hasn't."
©The Guardian

Neo-nazi group Blood and Honor, which is banned in Germany but registered in Hungary, has said it plans to hold a neo-Nazi youth meeting in the Castle District in February. The Government has announced it will seek ways to prohibit the meeting. The Hungarian branch of the group, the Blood and Honor Cultural Association, has already staged a Christmas meeting in Szôd liget, 20km north of Budapest, on December 21, 2002. The group allegedly had wanted wished to commemorate the break out of by Nazi Germany's elite fighting force, the Waffen SS, through surrounding Soviet forces on February 13, 1945, the day on which the Siege of Budapest ended. However, the site was already booked for that day, although Blood and Honor are said to have submitted another application for a different day.

Political state secretary in charge of civil intelligence services András Tóth confirmed that the Government will seek legal ways to prohibit the demonstration. Also said to be under investigation is the news that the Blood and Honor Cultural Association is registered in Hungary as a not for profit organization. "Staging a Neo-Nazi or skinhead event is unacceptable and goes against the constitution and law. I am convinced we do not need such demonstrations either in Budapest or anywhere in the country," said Tóth. Gábor Soós, the mayor of Szôdliget, told Hungarian news agency MTI that he did know beforehand about the meeting, held behind closed doors with the participation of about 200 people. He said he had been informed by the police securing the outside the building that a Neo-Nazi event called "White Christmas" would be staged in the cultural center. Having consulted with the police, Soós decided against closing the cultural center to ensure the security of the town as the evening train had already arrived carrying some 80 young participants.

"We did know about the meeting but the organizers, following a strategy internationally applied, kept the exact location secret until an hour before it actually took place," said Tóth. "To send in police special response units would have required at least two hours, so police could not intervene that way. " The Association of Hungarian Jewish Communities (Mazsihisz) called on the Government and the Minister of the Interior to take all necessary steps to avoid Budapest become the "new center and last refuge of Neo- Nazis". "If the authorities do not prohibit the upcoming meeting in a satisfying way, we will take the necessary steps to ensure our security," read Mazsihisz. statement. Gusztáv Zoltai, the executive director of Mazsihisz did not wish to disclose what possible steps they were to take.

The Budapest Police Headquarters was not in a position to comment on the planned rally by the time The Budapest Sun went to press. However, National Police Headquarters spokesman László Garamvölgyi did tell Hungarian news agency MTI that no application had been received by the police from any organization under the name of Blood and Honor. He added that if police did receive such a request, they would deny permission to hold the event.
©The Budapest Sun

The Red Cross has begun handing out emergency aid to homeless asylum seekers on the streets of Calais, weeks after the closure of the controversial Sangatte centre. Food and clothing are being given free to people from an aid post set up at Red Cross premises in the centre of town. No overnight accommodation is being provided, and Red Cross officials insist it is simply a humanitarian gesture. The Red Cross camp at Sangatte, outside Calais, was closed in December after a deal between London and Paris. The UK agreed to take in 1,200 of the camp's Iraqis and Afghans residents on work visas, if France agreed to shut the camp. The camp had been seen by critics as a magnet for asylum seekers and illegal immigrants, drawing them to the area to seek entry to the UK via the nearby Channel Tunnel or port. Since its closure, some 1,500 other asylum seekers have been moved from the town to other places. Other asylum seekers, however, have continued to sleep rough in Calais.

But the Red Cross insists that its decision to begin feeding and clothing them during the recent cold snap was not a move towards recreating the camp. "It is the humanitarian problem which is behind the decision," said Red Cross regional chief Hugues de Diesbach. "We have had very cold weather, with temperatures below freezing over several days. "We had to intervene to provide hot meals and clothes to people who needed them. "It is not a case of 'Sangatte Two', because we are not offering overnight accommodation." The UK Home Office dismissed as "absolute rubbish" a suggestion in one UK newspaper that a "Son of Sangatte" was being created. "The only assistance has been food, clothing and emergency medical help," said a spokeswoman. "The French Red Cross is not offering shelter or support to asylum seekers." "The French police are continuing their hardline policies. Fifty people were removed from the town this morning."

French regional prefect Cyrille Schott said fewer than 20% of the 1,500 migrants removed from the town by last Friday had tried to return. Around 1,000 of them have applied for asylum in France, and 120 - most of them from Eastern Europe - have been deported. The French Red Cross says its new aid point, or Samu Social, was open to homeless French people as well as refugees. Church and community groups in Calais have also been handing out clothes to homeless migrants. However, one attempt last week to hand out clothing at a central church was stopped by police after they feared the refugees might be planning to sleep there.
©BBC News

Britain's biggest Muslim organisation yesterday warned Tony Blair that war with Iraq would cause community relations to deteriorate and breed "bitterness and conflict for generations to come". Iqbal Sacranie, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, urged the prime minister to use his influence to "avert the destruction of an important Muslim country" and warned of deep cynicism among British Muslims about the motives for the war on terror. In a letter to No 10, Mr Sacranie described the plans for war as a "colonial policy". "It is generally believed the real American objective behind such an invasion is to change the political map of the Middle East, appropriate its oil wealth and appoint Israel as a regional superpower exercising total hegemony over the entire Middle East and beyond," he wrote. A war would worsen relations between communities and faiths in Britain as well as causing "lasting damage" to relations between the Muslim world and the west, Mr Sacranie added.

The opposition of the MCB, a moderate organisation linked to dozens of community groups, highlights the failure of the US and Britain to convince Muslims in the west of the validity of the war on terrorism. Seven out of 10 British Muslims believe the war on terror is a war on Islam, according to an ICM poll published last month. In the letter, Mr Sacranie expressed support for the anti-terrorist campaign, but wrote: "The war on terror should and can be won, but it has to be fought collectively not selectively, openly not secretively." He told the Guardian that when he referred to fighting terrorism "collectively" he meant "in all areas, whether it is states - like Israel - or organisations." Mr Sacranie said he did not believe there should be war even if Iraq was found to possess weapons of mass destruction. "If WMD are being got rid of, all countries have to get rid of them, and war is not the way to go about this. "If we are talking about the region, Israel has chemical, biological and nuclear weapons."

He also criticised the chief rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks, who has expressed conditional support for military action against Saddam Hussein. "We are very saddened by the remarks made by the chief rabbi," Mr Sacranie said. The MCB's letter praised Mr Blair's attempt to revive the Middle East peace process, but added: "A war on Iraq would certainly unravel whatever little has been achieved so far. "The humiliation ... that would attend a military conquest is likely to provide a natural ground for the growth of bitterness and conflict for generations to come."

Both President George Bush and Mr Blair have stated that the prospective campaign against Iraq is directed at Saddam Hussein's regime and is not a conflict with the wider Muslim world. A Downing Street spokeswoman said: "The prime minister has made clear that this is not about a war against Islam. "The government has done lots of work with the Muslim community here and with the Arab world and will continue to do so."
©The Guardian

By Ibbo Mandaza, editor-in-chief of the Sunday Mirror and Daily Mirror Newspapers of Zimbabwe<

Calls to isolate Zimbabwe ignore the source of conflict with Britain
The England team have been warned by the International Cricket Council that they will be punished if they fail to play against Zimbabwe in Harare and Bulawayo next month. That follows British foreign secretary Jack Straw's advice to the English team not to travel to Zimbabwe. This meddling by Straw, who has been at the centre of British efforts to isolate Zimbabwe, is just the latest episode in the stand-off between the two countries. Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada - the so-called "white Commonwealth" - have taken an anti-Mugabe stance ever since the start of Zimbabwe's fast-track land reform programme in 2000. Britain, which leads the international campaign against Mugabe, charges that the land reform programme has been implemented through violence, outside the rule of law and that white farmers (mostly former British settlers) should have been compensated for their loss. The British government, however, refused to provide such compensation, even though Straw himself has admitted that British imperialism created the land problem not only in Zimbabwe, but also in Palestine, Pakistan and India.

The British government presents the Zimbabwean problem as one of dictatorship: the murder of white farmers, rigging of elections, silencing of the press, removal of the independence of the judiciary, and stifling Zimbabwean democracy. Sadly, the EU, US and white Commonwealth members have swallowed this "fight for democracy" lie whole. But lie it is. In Zimbabwe, newspapers can be - and are, on a daily basis - critical of Mugabe. True, there was some violence during the land occupations, especially in 2000; and, true, there was violence on both sides during the elections - but the level of violence is nowhere near the "genocide" that is sometimes claimed. The truth is that, even though issues of democracy and human rights are important to Zimbabweans today, at the heart of the conflict between Zimbabwe and Britain is the unresolved land issue - the basis of the 1979 Lancaster House agreement that ended Zimbabwe's guerrilla war. The British government agreed to fund a land reform programme on a "willing buyer, willing seller" basis. But that never materialised, as the white farmers proved unwilling sellers, and the black willing buyers did not have the money. The fact that a large number of the landowners in Zimbabwe were members of the British government did not help.

In the demonisation of Mugabe that followed, the British government managed to turn a bilateral and racist dispute between itself and Zimbabwe's white farmers on the one hand, and the Mugabe government and land-hungry black Zimbabweans on the other, into an international issue. So the British government's lobbying for the ICC to remove the Cricket World Cup matches from Zimbabwe simply reflects its long-standing policy. However, it is unlikely to be sustainable because it has highlighted the growing divide between the white and non-white Commonwealth. Significantly, South Africa and India will have nothing to do with the proposed boycott. According to official sources in both these countries, it is "absolutely unacceptable". South Africa's deputy minister of foreign affairs, Aziz Pahad, commented: "This inexplicable action so late in the day is ridiculous. They are making a political statement when this is clearly a sporting issue. Only once before was sport used to exert political pressure and that was against the apartheid regime."

As Pahad's remarks suggest, it would be ludicrous to liken the proposed cricket boycott of Zimbabwe to the international boycott of the apartheid regime. Then there was an international consensus that apartheid was a crime against humanity; there is no such consensus on Zimbabwe. Outside Europe, it is clear that the British government is determined to damage a sport in order to score a political victory over Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, British companies continue to do business with Zimbabwe, with the blessing of their government.

The governments of Britain, Australia and New Zealand are guilty of hypocrisy and double standards. They are motivated more by the passion of racism than by the principles of democracy. It is a passion that pervades the governments of the northern hemisphere in their dealings with Africa. But it is the arrogance that is most galling. What gives Britain the right to ignore the decisions of international institutions and seek to impose its will on the world? This is a tendency that needs to be checked, not only in relation to cricket (which, incidentally, is hardly a popular sport in an African country like Zimbabwe), but also in global politics in general.
©The Guardian

When it comes to improving the number of ethnic minority teachers and heads in the UK, the government won't be missing its target. It doesn't have one. It doesn't even have any figures. Phil Revell reports

It's three years since the Stephen Lawrence inquiry identified institutional racism as a major problem in British society, and two years since Ofsted said that schools were failing to combat the problem of ethnic minority underachievement. But the government still has no idea how many black and Asian teachers work in Britain's schools. "There's no data," says Geoffrey Southworth, research director at the National College for School Leadership (NCSL). The national college was formally opened last year, but has been running leadership courses for teachers since the summer of 2000. It soon became obvious that only a tiny number of ethnic minority teachers were finding their way on to the college's courses.

The NCSL's experience echoes the findings of a recent study into pro motion opportunities for black and Asian teachers. Authors Alistair Ross and Sarah McCreith, from the Institute of Policy Studies in Education at the University of North London, found that one in five white teachers with more than 15 years' experience was either a headteacher or a deputy. Figures for black and Asian teachers were significantly lower. But research such as this is hampered by the paucity of information about black and ethnic minority teachers. Last week's General Teaching Council survey into the state of the teaching profession (analysed in detail in a special supplement in today's Guardian Education) was affected by the same lack of data. The GTC has no idea of the ethnicity of the teachers on its register. The 500-600 ethnic minority teachers who responded to the survey - out of a sample of 50,000 - were selected by accident. Even from such a tiny sample, the responses were revealing. Black and ethnic minority teachers were more likely to express dissatisfaction about school discipline and were more likely to see themselves working outside teaching in five years' time.

The GTC's chief executive, Carol Adams, would like to have been able to target the ethnic minority staff with specific questions. "This is a priority for us," she says. But the GTC register was inherited from the DfES, and, despite recommendations going back to the Swann report in 1985, the DfES keeps no national register of teacher ethnicity. The situation is all the more surprising because the government amended the Race Relations Act two years ago and imposed a specific duty on public bodies to monitor the ethnic background of their employees. Under these requirements, which came into force last May, public authorities have a duty to monitor, by ethnic group, their existing staff, along with applicants for jobs, promotion and training - and to publish the results every year. There are specific duties for schools and other educational institutions. Last summer, the national college, aware that the professional qualification for headteachers was about to be made compulsory and concerned about the low numbers of aspirant heads among ethnic minorities, asked the Commission for Racial Equality to brief them on the new legal obligations. The meeting was attended by representatives from the GTC and DfES, and one insider reports that the atmosphere was one of acute embarrassment. The DfES was stung into action and a spokesman said that the department "hoped" to have the information in the "near future".

But the Guardian has been told that a full picture of the ethnic background of England's teachers may not be complete until 2006. The questions would have to be asked by local authorities, and a random sample of LEAs explains why the process may take so long. A few authorities with significant ethnic minority populations collect detailed information. In Birmingham, 8% of the city's teachers are from the ethnic minorities, significantly lower than the proportion of students, but comparable within the national picture where the ethnic minority population is just under 8%. Lewisham, Nottingham, and Wolverhampton could also provide detailed information. But many local authorities could not, and Lancashire's LEA offered no figures at all, with the explanation: "There is currently no legislation which makes it a legal requirement for new teachers to disclose their ethnic background." Which is strictly true, but may not count as a defence if the Commission for Racial Equality decides to investigate whether the authority is complying with the new legislation.

Does any of this matter? It's well known that black and Asian teachers may face racism from pupils and parents, but surely their presence is welcome in the staffroom? On the evidence of a NCSL-funded study into ethnic minority school leaders, the answer is far from clear cut. Researchers Jan McKenley and Gloria Gordon interviewed successful ethnic minority headteachers. "I aspired to, but never got, a call for interviews in those leafy white suburbs," said one. "The first year was full of challenges and blocking by the staff. The school was like a feudal system - I was fighting racism from day one," said another. The overall picture is one in which schools are reluctant to accept that black and Asian teachers are as competent as their white colleagues, in which opportunities for promotion are missed and in which ethnic minority teachers are pigeonholed into working in schools with high proportions of ethnic minority pupils.

"A number of people early in their careers were being sidelined into careers related to their ethnicity," said McKenley. "When they did become heads, they were never asked to lead workshops of their peers; it's always something to do with ethnicity. Lots of people in this report had to wait for Ofsted to tell them that they were good at their job." These are familiar issues to Sohelia Mathieson, head of Brent's Mitchell Brook primary school. She was born in Tehran. "My mother is Russian and my father is Persian. I came here when I was 15," she says. She had not considered teaching as a career until she attended a parents' evening at school. "I was at a parents' evening and I was blanked by a teacher who spent 20 minutes telling her colleague about her holiday while I waited. I was angry about it for two days. My husband said 'There's only one solution. You become a teacher and you treat your mothers properly.' So I did." Mathieson qualified as a primary teacher and worked in Leicestershire. She applied for every in-service course that was going. "I knew I had to have qualifications to overcome the accent barrier," she explains. She moved to the London area and began to apply for posts as a deputy head. "I had some amazing experiences," she said. "In one school the head eventually said 'You look an intelligent woman, you must realise that a face must fit and yours doesn't'." On interview at another school, she again found that nobody wanted to look her in the eye. She didn't get the job, but she did get a hint of an explanation. As she collected her expenses, the secretary told her: "We thought Sohelia was an Irish name." Her response to these setbacks was to laugh them off. "I'm very grateful to this country," she says. "I love it to bits."

Other teachers' stories are less uplifting. In Hull, Chris Hassan faced dismissal after he refused to teach a boy who had racially abused him. "I am employed to teach English," he said at the time. "Not to be racially abused." Priscilla Bennett was awarded nearly £50,000 in damages after she was driven to a nervous breakdown by racist abuse from pupils. She made regular complaints to the managers of the school in Basildon, Essex, but the abuse continued. In both cases, the accusation was that the schools' managers had failed to take the racist abuse seriously. And if explicit racist abuse can be swept under the carpet, what price the cold shouldering that is much more common?

"As liberal educators we are reluctant to see ourselves as racist; the reaction is defensive," says Nick Givens, a lecturer and mentor for student teachers at Exeter University. "Black and minority ethnic teachers soon stop reporting the incidents and schools get no feedback." All the experts agree that monitoring of ethnic minority achievement is the essential first step in combating discrimination. Some local authorities, such as Brent and Birmingham, have demonstrated what can be done once the facts are known. Without data it's too easy for people to ignore the problem. Mathieson's school is a multicultural treasure chest, with children from all over the world. "You need sophisticated skills to teach in a multicultural area," she says. "I'm looking for teachers with whom the children can identify, more Afro-Caribbean teachers, more role models. And I'm finding them."

But if ethnic minority teachers are to have a career, the opportunities need to exist beyond the inner city. And it's in Britain's white hinterland that the real problems exist, both on the streets and in the staffrooms. "Teaching is a surprisingly conservative profession," says Givens. "It may be a factor that 50% of the profession is over 45, and until 1997 we had 17 years of the government of the day denigrating anti-racism." Gilroy Brown was Birmingham's first black headteacher. He argues that explicit racism is easier to deal with. An offence has been committed; an individual can be identified. "But prejudice is like an iceberg, nine-tenths under water," he says. "Why should the burden of proof be on our shoulders? Look at the figures for black people in prison, in management posts, excluded from schools - explain those to me." Progress in other areas of society hasn't been matched inside education, Brown argues. "It's interesting that what the police force has done, the education system hasn't. What we have is rhetoric and lip service." "You would think that education would be playing a leading role," says McKenley, who was an HMI for 11 years and now works for Austin Mayhead management consultants. "But will we have to wait 20 years before we have a Turkish or Somali headteacher?"

Challenge Plus - the experience of black and minority ethnic school leaders, by Jan McKenley and Dr Gloria Gordon, is available from the National College for School Leadership

©The Guardian

Libya will take over as chairman of the U.N. Human Rights Commission next week, further damaging the credibility of the international body from which the United States was ousted two years ago. The HRC's 53 member nations will begin their annual session on Monday by selecting a new chairman. The North African nation, which has one of the world's worst human rights records, is the only candidate for the post. The session also marks the return of the United States to the commission after its ouster in the spring of 2001 in a vote by a separate U.N. panel. The expulsion prompted Congress to make payment of some dues to the United Nations conditional upon America regaining the seat.

The chairmanship of the panel routinely rotates among the world's major regions. This year, it is the turn of Africa, which has put forward Libya in apparent appreciation for its funding of regional initiatives. Sichan Siv, the U.S. representative to the U.N. Economic and Social Council, said it was "appalling" that Libya should receive such a prestigious position. "Libya has a very poor human rights record, and it is wrong for them to chair the committee once chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt," he said in an interview. Mr. Siv said U.S. officials had been consulting "with our friends and allies" in Europe and Africa to try to find an alternative candidate, but without success. In a largely symbolic protest, Washington will demand a roll call vote on Monday on Libya's candidacy, so that it and other governments can publicly distance themselves from the decision. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher yesterday confirmed the U.S. plan to try and block Libya, citing in particular the country's poor human rights record and its presumed role as the architect of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. "We cannot reward such terrible conduct with a leadership position, in this case, in the foremost international human rights body," Mr. Boucher said.

Libya's chairmanship is just the latest blow to the Geneva-based HRC, whose membership has swelled with governments that have questionable human rights records, such as Algeria, Chad, Burkina Faso, China, Cuba, Congo, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Vietnam and Zimbabwe. "The greatest challenge for [the HRC] is going to be overcoming the tendencies of thugs to flock to it," said Ken Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "Their first instinct is to avoid condemnation, and now two dozen of the 53 are just abusers. It's reached a crisis point." The HRC, the cornerstone of the U.N. human rights effort, is an independent body that sends investigators to probe myriad abuses, including torture, summary executions, judicial interference and religious persecution. At its annual six-week session, the body often has voted to condemn the human rights records of countries such as Sudan, Iraq and Burundi. Israel also has been a frequent target.In recent years, Washington has tried, and failed, to win high-profile condemnations of Cuba and China. Both nations sit on the commission, where they have found sympathy and protection from other members.

As chairman, Libya will have the power to shape and schedule debates, but it will not control the agenda. Ruled with an iron hand by Moammar Gadhafi since 1969, Libya routinely makes the list of worst human rights abusers. Its government quashes free speech and jails political opponents, according to the State Department's human rights report. There are no independent human rights groups, and the press is strictly controlled. Political prisoners report that torture is common. It is widely assumed that Libya, a generous underwriter of the newly created African Union, sought the HRC chair to raise the country's influence and profile on the continent. The Libyan mission to the United Nations did not return calls on Friday. "Libya bought the African Union and Africa repaid it with the chairmanship, that's the ugly deal," Mr. Roth said. "That doesn't bode well for the accountability deal that Africa is trying to strike with the West." Mr. Gadhafi's admirers include former South African President Nelson Mandela, who visited Libya in 1997 and later honored its leader with South Africa's highest civilian order for foreigners.

Diplomats and human rights experts have warned for months that a successful bid by Libya would soil African ambitions to build credibility, as well as the reputation of the United Nations. The HRC meets in the same complex as the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. But that office operates independently and has no control over which nations join the commission. "But that's a too-fine distinction for most people," acknowledged one senior U.N. official. "What kind of credibility are we going to have in the human rights sector when people can point at Libya in the chairman's seat?" Human Rights Watch and affiliated groups have proposed the adoption of minimum eligibility requirements for membership to the body. They say candidate governments should ratify all or most of the main human rights treaties, issue a standing invitation to HRC investigators, and not have been condemned by the commission in the recent past.
©The Washington Post

A Norwegian software company has released a version of its Internet browser in Sami, the language used by the indigenous population of northern Scandinavia and Russia, many of them traditional reindeer herders. Oslo-based Opera Software, which produces the world's third-most-popular browser after Internet Explorer and Netscape, said its latest version is now available in 42 languages. "Our most treasured cultural heritage is our language, and we want to provide that little extra help that smaller linguistic groups need to prosper as a cultural entity in an electronic information age," said Opera chief executive Jon S von Tetzchner.

The Sami culture and language are recovering from centuries of assimilation policies in northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, where their language was banned during much of the early- to mid-20th Century. The Sami, once called the Lapps, are believed to have followed their herds of reindeer to Europe's northern fringe thousands of years ago and, like the Inuit of North America, are an indigenous people of the Arctic. Efforts to restore their culture include the creation of Sami Parliaments, schools, universities and theaters, and publication of Sami-language books and newspapers. Sven-Roald Nystoe, president of the Sami Parliament in Norway, was delighted by the news. He called Opera's move "an important contribution to drawing attention to the Sami language." The browser was translated into Northern Sami, the most commonly used of many forms and regional dialects of the language.

The European Union has launched its first centralised fingerprint database aimed at preventing abuses of the asylum system. From Wednesday, all asylum seekers over the age of 14 will be fingerprinted to check that they have not already made an asylum application in another EU country. Every year, some 400,000 people seek asylum in the 15 countries of the EU. EU officials say the system will put an end to multiple asylum applications, or "asylum-shopping". They say the system complies with human rights obligations and the data will not be made available to national governments.

Co-ordinating policy
Many people are believed to enter the EU through one country, such as Greece or Italy, but then move on to Germany or Britain, searching for better conditions. They will now be fingerprinted in the first country where they apply for asylum and their details will be matched to data already stored in the central computer. An independent body is to ensure police do not give data to countries of origin If they are discovered to have applied elsewhere, under EU rules, the asylum-seeker will be sent back to the country where the first application was made. "This is to streamline our asylum policy across the European Union," said EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Antonio Vitorino. UK Home Office Minister Beverley Hughes, whose country is one of a few already fingerprinting asylum seekers, said the system would help speed up the processing of asylum cases.

The test
"This database, in time, will provide us with a valuable resource to tackle multiple asylum applications and deter asylum shopping," Ms Hughes said. However, no one knows the real extent of asylum-shopping, says the BBC's Oana Lungescu in Brussels. Officials have estimated it to be about 10-20%. She says that, with illegal immigration a hot topic all over Europe, officials believe Eurodac - as the system is called - will help restore public confidence in the asylum system. "If we can see there are many multiple applications... then we will be able to combat it. But if the statistics on the other hand show that the level... was lower than we thought that would nevertheless be a useful result," said Frank Paul, the official in charge of Eurodac. "In public opinion there is this idea that there are major abuses being perpetrated all over the place, right, left and centre. If the Eurodac system can demonstrate... the abuse is limited in scale, then this will contribute to changing public opinion," Mr Paul told a news conference on Tuesday. But as the fingerprinting will only apply to new applicants, it may take at least a year for the database to prove its worth. The asylum seekers' fingerprints will be stored for up to 10 years in Eurodac. An independent body has already been set up to ensure the data will not be used by the police for other purposes and will not be passed on to the applicants' countries of origin. The system will also go online in Norway and Iceland - which are not members of the EU - and, from 2004, in 10 future EU member states.
©BBC News

Institutions not responsible for prejudice, says home secretary

The home secretary, David Blunkett yesterday appeared to mark a retreat from the anti-racist agenda adopted by the government in the wake of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, by arguing that "institutional racism" was a slogan that let individual managers "off the hook" in tackling racism. Mr Blunkett made his comments as new Home Office figures showed that the police have improved their recruitment from minority-ethnic communities in the past year, but some police forces remain nearly all-white. Home Office figures show that although the total number of ethnic minority officers rose by 410 (13%) during 2002, in nine out of the 45 forces in England and Wales their numbers have remained the same or fallen in the past year. The Metropolitan police account for lion's share of the total increase in black and Asian officers, with 240 of the 410 new recruits. The poorest performance was in the West Midlands, where the number of black and Asian police officers fell from 376 to 369 in the past year. The figures show that the Cumbria, North Yorkshire and North Wales forces remain nearly all-white, with fewer than 10 officers from an ethnic minority out of more than 1,000 in each force. Figures show that the Home Office, the immigration service and probation service have already exceeded their 2009 targets for recruitment of black or Asian officials, and nearly one in three of all Home Office staff is now from a minority-ethnic group.

At a Network conference of minority-ethnic Home Office staff, Mr Blunkett was told many welcomed the progress but were questioning why there were so few black and Asian faces at senior levels in the department. In his speech Mr Blunkett appeared to mark a retreat from the government's commitment to implement the recommendations of the Macpherson report into the murder of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence, when he told the conference that institutional racism missed the point. He said it was important that the government's "diversity agenda" tackled the fight against prejudice but also took on the long-standing need to change attitudes. "That is why I was so worried about people talking about institutional racism because it isn't institutions. It is patterns of work and processes that have grown up. It's people that make the difference," Mr Blunkett stated in his speech. "We must never, ever, allow managers at senior, middle or junior level to duck their responsibilities, to be able to offload their feelings by believing it's the system or the process."

Questioned about his comments afterwards, he added: "I think the slogan created a year or two ago about institutional racism missed the point. It's not the structures created in the past but the processes to change structures in the future and it is individuals at all levels who do that." Last night, Milena Buyum of the National Assembly Against Racism criticised Mr Blunkett's remarks: "We would have expected him to talk about the progress made since Macpherson rather than engaging in semantics about we mean about institutional racism. It is obvious that individuals are responsible for their own actions. However, in our systems and organisations racism is so ingrained and deep-seated that it does not matter whether individuals are very good or very bad on these issues. The whole system needs to be looked at. He has been retreating from the Macpherson agenda ever since he became home secretary." In his report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, Sir William Macpherson defined institutional racism as "the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority-ethnic people."
©The Guardian

French officials who heard noises coming from a stationary overnight freight train bound for England found 66 Romanians, most of them women and children, hiding on board, the state rail company SNCF said Tuesday. "They must have thought they'd arrived in Calais and started drumming their hands on the doors of the wagon, which alerted SNCF agents in the station," said Eric Martos, an SNCF spokesman in the northern French city of Lille, where the find took place in a train sorting yard. Police took charge of the group, which included around 30 children and 20 women, but let most go Wednesday after checking their identity papers and visas. "Most of them had papers for France and were therefore freed. Only 13 adults, accompanied by 10 children, had apparently lodged asylum requests in Spain. We are therefore going to start readmission procedures for Spain for these individuals," a police spokesman said. Martos said it was unusual to find such a large group of foreigners sneaking aboard trains for Britain. "But the phenomenon has not disappeared since the closure of the Sangatte centre," he said, referring to a controversial refugee centre which was shut down late last year near the French end of the Channel Tunnel. In May last year, around 100 other Romanians were arrested after being found on a freight train in the same Lille station. Trains using the Channel Tunnel from France remain a preferred means of entry into Britain for illegal immigrants, despite increased security around railyards and the closure last month of the Red Cross refugee centre at Sangatte, which acted as a staging post for nighttime assaults on trains in nearby Calais.
©The Tocqueville Connection

The far right is feeding on the dislocation of the industrial north

Last month the British National Party narrowly won a council byelection in Blackburn-with-Darwen. It didn't cause much of a stir outside the town. Perhaps more spectacular events in Burnley and Oldham last year spoiled the novelty of far-right victories in the northern towns. Reactions locally range from "perhaps they will listen to us now" (BNP voters) to "this is a wake-up call" (Labour supporters). The resurfacing of the extreme right is a symptom of an old elided political argument. That it focuses narrowly on racism is only part of the largely silenced, but epic story of the north. The upheavals of the past 50 years took place, not only without consent, but also without any discussion with the people who live there. These changes involved more than bringing labour from south Asia. The heart and psyche of the north - defensive and proud in the certainty that, however grimy and gloomy the mill towns, this was where the real wealth was created - took a severe blow with the decay of their social function. The very names of these towns were synonymous with making textiles. Their reason for existence was based on them.

With the passing of this, there was no recognition of the violence it did to the people, and no acknowledgement of grief and the loss of identity involved. Even to speak of such things in the 1970s was to be derided as a victim of nostalgia. These convulsive shifts in sensibility were scarcely a result of free choice. A council official admitted after the byelection result: "The questions were never asked. And they can't be asked now. It is too late." This does not, however, prevent answers being given - some of them very ugly indeed.

In 1970 I published a book which reflected the resentment and bitterness of the people of Blackburn then. Beneath the vehemence lay the assertion "they have no right here". Under the influence of Enoch Powell, the remedy was "send them back". Today, few people advocate mass deportations. But this doesn't necessarily indicate a more liberal temper. Feelings have hardened into a sullen estrangement, while invisible frontiers create a de facto social apartheid. If you ask "what would you like to happen to Blackburn?" more often than not, they say "I'd like it to be the way it was". In the cotton towns, racism has become an embittered, contorted position of defiance in a discussion that never took place. The idea of Blackburn being "restored" is obviously an unreal wish. But it continues to haunt the imagination of people, because they have never been consulted on anything that has happened to them. People who worked in the mills were scarcely taken into the confidence of those companies that ended their operations in Blackburn, stranding skilled spinners and weavers and others working in the textile industry. (Of course, they were never invited to express an opinion about its beginnings either, when handloom weavers were starved out of their domestic occupation and compelled to yield to the harsh rhythms of factory machinery - any more than the people of South Asia had elected to live under the imperial mercy of the Raj.) An historic deficit continues: social and economic change remains unchosen. Whoever voted for globalisation?

If resentment focuses on racism, this is mainly because south Asians are the most conspicuous embodiment of these involuntary changes. There has been no space to explore whether they, too, might have been evictees of agriculture and rural life, just as the people of Blackburn had been. The fact that more recent migrants cling to religion, which the whites have ceased to do, that they live in "close-knit families and communities", is levelled as a complaint against them. Yet only the day before yesterday these were the proudest characteristics of the old Blackburn. When they see children in their new clothes at the festival of Eid-ul-Fitr, something tugs at the heart, as they remember a decayed chapel culture, children in new suits and dresses parading through the town on Whitsun walks. Part of the resentment of white communities lies in this encounter with their former selves.

There can be no reconciliation where there has been no recognition. Elected representatives only emphasise their distance from the people when they intone their reedy denunciations: "there is no place in our society for racial intolerance". They believe that the election of a BNP councillor is a little local difficulty. The people, they say, have nowhere else to go; they will come "home" to Labour at the next election. People always have somewhere else to go, however squalid the destination. The well-meaning majority in Blackburn say: "my hope lies in the young people. Maybe after a couple of generations they will become like us". Thirty years ago, Barbara Castle, then Blackburn's MP, advised me "don't play up the race issue. It will die down with time. They will become like us". Become like us. Forfeit their faith, abandon the networks of kin, lose a sense of belonging, jettison solidarity? Is that how we are? Is that what is required of people if they are to "fit in"?

These are painful issues. But to fail even to broach them is to conduct the life of the country behind the backs of the people. It is to infantilise, as well as to deny strong feelings that become more virulent the more they are repressed. It makes us not active participants but objects, not agents but victims, at the mercy of an increasingly remote global market. The collusive silences, the unrecognised losses, the growing disengagement from politics - it isn't good enough for the people of Blackburn or of any of the other mill communities, pit villages or factory towns blighted by drugs, crime and a pervasive sense of powerlessness. It is in these places that New Labour now performs its rituals of "modernisation", and tries to exorcise the ghosts of those it once regarded as its own people.
Jeremy Seabrook, author of Freedom Unfinished: Fundamentalism and Popular Resistance in Bangladesh Today
©The Guardian

Transfer seen as part of European effort for common defense

The European Union officially took over responsibility from the United Nations on Wednesday for training and supervising Bosnian police in a move viewed as a test run of the Union's evolving common defense policy. At a brief ceremony in Sarajevo, the Danish commissioner of the EU Police Mission, Sven Fredriksen, said the operation underlined how the rule of law was central to the Union. "There can be no mistake," he said, "only the rule of law will place Bosnia firmly on the road to Europe." The transfer marked the end of UN peacekeeping in Bosnia, which was put in place as part of the American-brokered Dayton peace accords. The major mission of the United Nations was to restructure a police force torn by ethnic hatreds and battered by three and a half years of civil war.

A UN statement described it as the most extensive police reform and restructuring mission ever undertaken by the United Nations. Among the accomplishments of the mission were the reduction of local forces from 44,000 to about 16,000, the retraining of hundreds of police officers, and a thorough reform of the border guards. The European force of about 500, whose mandate runs until 2005, will be a third smaller than the UN contingent. Officials said about 80 percent of the officers would be from EU states, and the rest from other European countries and Canada. The operation will cost the Union about E38 million annually, considerably less than the UN's budget had been. The reduction in manpower and spending has been a matter of some concern in Bosnia. The UN employed about 1,500 local people, many of whom are likely to be laid off. Some Bosnians have also expressed concern whether the smaller European force would be capable of fully policing human trafficking and corruption, which had been major projects under the United Nations. The European team is expected to maintain the basic focus of the UN on monitoring and training Bosnian officers in the two entities that now comprise Bosnia: the Muslim-Croat Federation, which includes Sarajevo, and the Serb-run Republica Srpska. Fredriksen said the European mission would also continue to combat organized crime.

The 15-member European Union, which already finances much of Bosnia's economic reforms, decided last March to assume responsibility for training police as part of an effort to shape a common security and defense policy. Another EU force is supposed to take over the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's peacekeeping mission in Macedonia next month, and the Union has offered to take over the entire NATO-led Stabilization Force in Bosnia, which was also set up under the Dayton accords and numbers 12,000 soldiers. In its statement, the United Nations said one of its greatest challenges had been the legacy of the massacres at Srebrenica. "Our aims were not only to assist in healing the wounds of the survivors of the massacre, but also, in the scope of peace building and to lay the foundations for recovery," it said. Further normalization depends on the handover of war crime suspects to the International Criminal Tribunal of Former Yugoslavia in The Hague, the statement said. The American ambassador-at-large for war crimes, Pierre-Richard Prosper, plans to tour the Balkans later this month to press for the arrest of war criminals still at large. In the Republica Srpska, he is expected to push for the arrest of Radovan Karadzic, a Bosnian Serb leader. "We need to see some proactive measures that will be designed to bring Karadzic into custody," Prosper told reporters in Washington. Prosper will also press Yugoslavia to arrest Ratko Mladic, who led the Bosnian Serb forces in the Bosnian war. Mladic is believed to spend much of his time in Yugoslavia, which risks losing American economic assistance after March 31 unless it arrests indicted war criminals. About 25 of them are believed to be in the region.

Bosnians take over airport
The Bosnian authorities assumed control over Sarajevo's airport Wednesday after it had been under the authority of the UN and NATO for more than a decade, Agence France-Presse reported from Sarajevo. During the 1992-95 war, the airport was under the control of UN peacekeepers. It was used by the UN refugee agency to deliver relief supplies to the capital through the longest airlift in the agency's history. At the time, little food and other basic necessities were reaching Sarajevo, besieged by Bosnian Serb forces, which frequently targeted the airport during the war. After the signing of the 1995 Dayton peace agreement, the airport was placed under control of the NATO-led Stabilization Force. It was opened to civilian traffic in 1996.

Ashdown predicts arrest
Paddy Ashdown, the top representative of the international community for Bosnia, said Wednesday in London he was confident that Karadzic would be brought to trial for war crimes, The Associated Press reported. Ashdown said it would not be easy to catch Karadzic, as he still enjoyed wide public support among the local population. But by eroding that support, he would eventually be brought to trial. "Karadzic is not likely to be caught by an American Apache helicopter plucking him out," Ashdown told BBC radio. "He is likely to be caught because we, bit by bit, piece by piece, remove from him the support of the population who still regard him as a hero."
©International Herald Tribune

A motorized rubber boat carrying 41 illegal immigrants sank off the southern coast of Spain on Thursday, and six passengers drowned, police said. The craft apparently sank after hitting rocks near the coast while crossing the Strait of Gibraltar from Morocco. Civil Guard divers recovered the bodies of five of the victims, and police said rescuers spotted at least one other body. Twenty-seven survivors were taken into custody while eight escaped after arriving at Tarifa, Spain's southernmost tip, a police spokeswoman said. Police said the group was believed to be from Morocco or Algeria. Every year thousands of people fleeing poverty in Africa try to enter Europe illegally through Spain. The spokeswoman said Civil Guards in Tarifa also detained 17 Africans who had successfully made the crossing in a similar boat.
©Associated Press

District Court Judge Fears for Human Rights of Dutch Suspects in American Courts

On 14 November, presiding Judge Holtrop of the District Court of The Hague ruled in favour of a motion for an injunction against the extradition to the United States of Mr. Paul D., a taxi driver in Amsterdam who is wanted by the authorities in the United States for conspiracy to import XTC pills. Mr. Holtrop said the extradition order will have to await further information. In particular, Mr. Holtrop wants to know if the suspect will be forced to enter into a plea-bargaining relationship with the American district attorney in exchange for a reduced sentence. The ruling of Judge Holtrop also affected the extradition of five members of a gypsy family who are wanted by the authorities in the United States on suspicion of shoplifting and the extradition of Victor de B., a citizen of Zaandam who is wanted in the United States for importing XTC pills. The postponement in the extradition of the gypsy family occurred on 27 November and extradition was postponed for De B. on 3 December.

On 16 December, the "Landsadvocaat", Mr. A. ten Broeke, or the attorney who advises the Ministry of Justice on legal matters, argued in the Appeals Court of Hague that the rulings of Judge Holtrop should be set aside. His argument on behalf of the extradition of these seven persons is that if they are not extradited, "It will have a damaging effect on relations" with the United States. The attorney argues as well that in addition to setting aside the interim ruling of the district court with regard to the extradition of the seven persons, they may not have a right of appeal. According to Ten Broeke, the Ministry of Justice is "on principle opposed" to the ruling of the District Court. "The judge has ignored the principle of trust which is implicit in the right of extradition". The mutual right of extradition set down in an extradition treaty between the Netherlands and the United States is conditioned upon mutual trust and mutual respect for human rights.

According to the attorney for Mr. Paul D., Mr. B. Nooitgedagt, "There are plenty of examples that the human rights of Dutch suspects are flagrantly violated in the United States. The State has the obligation to meet the request from the judge for information rather than just sticking to the letter of the treaty". 19 December 2002
©Dutch News Digest

Regulatory and Self-Regulatory Approaches
Rapporteur's Summary by Professor Beth Simone Noveck

Thank you to everyone who participated in the PCMLP meeting on Hate Speech, Incitement to Violence and Racism on the Internet. The conference brought together 30 experts on content-related Internet issues and representatives of many of the major stakeholders in the international debate over hate speech on the Internet. Participants, who represented the European Commission, the Council of Europe, various governmental bodies, the Internet industry, civil liberties groups, hate-speech-focused NGOs and user groups, participated in a day of vibrant and pluralistic discussion. The geographically diverse attendees from throughout Western Europe, the United States, Canada and Israel shared views on Internet hate speech and debated the nature and extent of the problem. The day began with conversation about the legal background and concluded with a debate over the appropriateness of self-regulatory solutions. The resulting consensus was that further dialogue on the issues identified during the meeting would be worthwhile.


The Legal Backdrop: European Developments
The day began with a background presentation, laying out the legal landscape of hate regulation on the Internet in Europe. Benoit Frydman and Isabelle Rorive pointed out that most, if not all, national legislation in Europe prohibits and, in some cases, even criminalizes some form of hate speech. But even within Europe no consensus exists as to what kind of hate, racist or xenophobic speech should be illegal. Only four countries, for example, include denial-of-the-Holocaust among the speech that must be controlled.

The European Commission has now issued a proposal to try to harmonize European standards of hate speech. But even a common definition of hate speech does not answer the question of whether hate speech on the Internet should be regulated. There are many who argue that what is illegal off-line should be illegal on-line. There are others who regard the Internet as the last, free frontier that should be safeguarded from regulation. If there is to be a European-wide regime to deal with hate speech on the Net, which of the myriad European national laws should apply to the Internet? Should, instead, some kind of international standard be applied? If so, what is to be the role of intermediaries in enforcing such standards?

Intra-European differences in the approach to hate speech pale by comparison to the wide gulf separating the United States and Europe on the issue. Hate speech in the United States does not fall outside of the protections of the First Amendment and, generally, cannot be constitutionally regulated. In addition, U.S. law prohibits interfering with the content of electronic communications. The absence of international harmonization exacerbates the difficulties of enforcement in Europe.

The presenters suggested that the Yahoo! Case (and the criminal action against the former Yahoo! CEO in a French court) demonstrates the jurisdictional chaos that is the result of trying to enforce national legislation for a global medium. They propose that international standards and cooperation are the only effective solution to the problem. But the United States has consistently expressed constitutional reservations against any international legal mechanism that would outlaw hate speech and has indicated that it will not sign the Council of Europe protocol on hate speech.

The final resort, say Frydman and Rorive, is for the Internet industry itself to self-regulate according to these international standards. Under the European E-Commerce Directive, Internet Service Providers, to avoid potential liability, must take down illegal content that they are hosting, if notified of its presence. This liability-shield provides a strong carrot to self-regulate against illegal content. Even under U.S. law, Internet Service Providers, while not required to remove content, are free to do so. Global service providers, such as E-Bay and Yahoo!, who do business in Europe as well as the United States, have already taken steps to prevent the sale of Nazi memorabilia.

A representative of the European Commission's Internal Market DG responded regarding the E-Commerce Directive, which is in the process of being transposed into national legislation by the member states. The speaker pointed out that the Directive is not specifically targeted to hate speech but to all illegal activity, generally, trying to create uniform and "horizontal" treatment of illegal content across subject matter areas. This, it was suggested, is essential to ensure the free flow of information and ideas on the Internet. The purpose of the Directive is to provide information intermediaries, such as ISPs, with a degree of legal certainty and prevents the member states from imposing a further burden on ISPs to monitor content on the Net.

Richard Swetenham, commenting on behalf of DG Justice and Home Affairs, spoke about the new European Commission proposal to harmonize the definition of hate speech off-line and on. The proposal has specific provisions relating to jurisdiction where the offense is committed through an information system. The Commission proposal also includes Holocaust denial as an offence, which, for example, is not covered by UK law.

Niraj Nathwani then added his remarks regarding the draft of the Council of Europe Protocol to the Cybercrime Convention on hate speech. The preparation of the Cybercrime Convention began in 1989 and by 1997 a draft had been prepared for discussion. In 2000, the French members of the Assembly criticized the draft for failure to treat the issue of racist speech but efforts to incorporate such language foundered on U.S. objections. The new Protocol will now set out a common definition, which will make it easier to enact effective European legislation embodying European values on this issue. But the criminalization of hate speech, which the Protocol proposes, will be a contentious question, as will international cooperative measures. Bertil Cottier reiterated that, whereas the norms in Europe may be fairly similar, harmonizing prosecution will much more difficult. Eric Bronkhorst supported this with the comment that Russia (and Argentina) is one of the worst havens for illegal hate speech.

But these enforcement mechanisms raise problems for democracy, added Meryem Merzouki, as these international efforts are likely to exceed the bounds of current law. Mark Weitzman commented that they do not solve the problem of identifying hate speech on the Net, which changes daily and which is very hard to define.

Legal Background: The U.S.
Beth Noveck weighed in on the discussion about U.S.-European disparities with a reminder that the two Continents share a common dignitary tradition which they choose to further through different constitutional and political approaches to free speech. Thus this is not a fundamental value conflict but, rather, a difference of opinion over how to accomplish the goal of ensuring vibrant discourse, individual autonomy and respect for human rights. By focusing on the similarities and reiterating the shared values, she suggested, we may recognize common solutions.

Whereas hate speech cannot be regulated per se, "fighting words" can be. To emphasize the commonalities, Beth Noveck discussed this U.S. judicial doctrine of "fighting words," a category of regulable speech. These fighting words are those "used in such circumstances that they will bring about substantive evils" and cause a breach of the peace. Fighting words occur where the speaker is in physical proximity. It is unlikely, therefore, that hate speech and, in particular, hate speech on the Internet could ever be considered fighting words. Given the common dislike of hate speech but profound differences over enforcement, the solution lies, she said, not in the broad strokes of legislation nor in unaccountable forms of private regulation, both of which risk censoring politically-controversial as well as illegal speech. Rather we should explore democratic forms of self-regulation, such as: 1) specific implementing regulations setting out self-regulatory procedures to clarify existing legislation, and 2) the availability of extra-legal, self-regulatory dispute resolution procedures as an alternative to injunctive relief and a priori removal of content prior to judicial determinations of illegality.

Conclusion: Need to explore implementing procedures to provide self-regulatory enforcement mechanisms under current legislative measures.
Conclusion: Need to explore the development of an accountable and transparent dispute resolution procedure that info-mediaries on both Continents can use to handle complaint requests.

Agent Provocateur: Digital Havens
Bertil Cottier agreed that the U.S. and Europe do share a common starting point, namely, some practice dealing with "digital havens." There are other fields of cyberlaw, such as Internet gaming, where we look to enforce our law extra-territorially against unlawful providers in third-party jurisdictions trying to circumvent national bans. Cottier suggests that if Europeans approach American lawmakers with the rhetoric of digital havens, they might be able to narrow the gap. One way to identify such havens, he suggested, will be by language, e.g. looking for German-language sites emanating from America that are targeting Germans with racist propaganda.

But, retorted Nimrod Kozlovski, even if attacking data havens could be done constitutionally, language will no longer be an issue in a few years when all content will be easily and instantly translated. It is ironic, he remarked, that it is the most xenophobic groups who use this global medium to deliver their message of anti-globalization. Michael Geist added that calling something a "data haven" is simply a different name for a jurisdiction with different social policies. Such arguments, said Meryem Merzouki, only give "democratic weapons" to dictatorships and those wishing to regulate other forms of lawful content.

Consensus Leads to Questions
The morning's debate made clear that, not only is Europe taking a variety of legal steps to deal with hate speech, incitement to violence and racism on-line and off, but that the United States and Europe, despite a common tradition, will not soon reach consensus on this issue. Therefore we must examine the role that third-party intermediaries, such as Internet service providers, will play in policing hate speech. On the one hand, ISPs are a useful "choking point," as Nimrod Kozlovski put it, where content can be most easily controlled. But, on the other hand, ISPs neither want to be standard-setters nor should they, suggested the representative from EuroISPA. ISPs cannot be relied upon either to police themselves adequately, said Mark Weitzman, and therefore counter the problem. But they also cannot be relied upon not to take down content that goes beyond the definition of illegal in an effort to avoid legal disputes. Especially where content provider and carrier are the same entity, argued Michael Geist, ISPs will want to make content decisions and will have a tremendous incentive to take content down.

From Regulation to Self-Regulation: A Discussion of Comparative Approaches

Notice and Take Down
Isabelle Rorive offered an explanation of notice, take-down and put-back procedures as they are used in the United States (in the context of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act) and Japan compared to the approach taken by the European E-Commerce Directive. The primary distinction is that there is a mechanism for putting back content, not just removing it. Also the permanent removal of content requires a legal determination by a competent judicial authority.

Nimrod Kozlovski added a few remarks on a recent relevant case of an Israeli Court. In that case, the court held that total immunity for Internet service providers for hosting illegal content, like in the U.S., is not appropriate but that the European approach would create an undue incentive to take down too broad a swathe of material. If material is illegal on its face, e.g. child pornography, it must be taken down, said the court. But if the legality of the content is open to interpretation, ISPs cannot take the material down without a court order.

Michael Geist explained the system that Canada has in place regarding child pornography. The government may give notice to an ISP, which, in turn, gives notice to the content owner. But the decision to take down the content is left to judicial determination. Also there is still no system in place for taking down content that is hosted in the U.S., Canada or Japan, for example, but considered illegal in Germany.

Conclusion: Need to investigate notice-take down-put back in more detail. Need to explore approaches that better define which authorities are competent to give notice to take down and how to ensure that legal content is put back.

Internet Industry Initiatives
Conference participants heard reports from Jugendschutz.net about their project to document racist material in German and analyze both ISP terms of service and German web sites. They heard a discussion from INHOPE about the growth of this European hotline initiative for reporting on the existence of illegal content. PRINCIP discussed their 8 month project to design software to recognize illegal content by analyzing and trying to find a pattern from content that has been judicially-determined to be illegal. PRINCIP is trying to create a "spider" that will crawl the web looking for hate speech. This is a linguistic analysis project that tries to move beyond the keyword approach to a more sophisticated level of analysis. Michael Schneider mentioned his own software project that he is developing to block access to such content. ICRA talked about developments with its self-rating project that allows content owners to label their own web-sites and others to filter content according to their own values. The ICRA system is going open source and expanding to other subject areas, such as labels for sites discussing tobacco or smoking.

These self-regulatory initiatives provoked a number of critical and analytical responses, including:

  • ISPs should not be in the business of determining what is illegal. That is the job of the judiciary and law enforcement.

  • Hotlines apply only the lowest common standard, which is not effective in dealing with the problem.

  • The work of hotlines creates undue pressure on ISPs to take down material that is not illegal but merely controversial raising grave concerns for civil liberties.

  • ISPs go after individuals disproportionately and it is not clear that individuals aren't being intimated because there are no safeguards in place.

  • ICRA-type self-rating approaches work where people have an incentive to label but will not work in the context of hate speech.

  • Internet industry associations have created codes of conduct for their members. This has worked well in the context of sexual content but it is not yet clear what the role is for such codes in the context of hate speech.

  • It is very difficult to implement technical solutions globally given that IP addressing is dynamic.

  • We need to allocate more resources for media literary and education instead of controls.

  • We need to ensure that parents as well as children are educated since racist views are communicated from parents to children.

  • Concentrating only on the role of ISPs skirts the question of the role of search engines, content portals, registrars, digital certificate providers and other info-mediaries in controlling content.

  • Conclusion: Need to analyze the potential consequences of self-regulatory mechanisms. Need to broaden the analysis to include technical self-regulatory mechanisms beyond merely ISPs.
    Conclusion: We need to study "hate speech" on the Net so we learn about the trends, personalities, different ideologies and groups that are operating. At the same time, we have to ensure that young people are not deceived by what they read.

    Discussion of Next Steps
    During the afternoon's discussion there was a deep divide over the appropriate approach to next steps. On the one hand, some argued that the political desire to "do something" about hate speech would lead to a system of private censorship and undue emphasis on trying to remove this content at the expense of civil liberties. Others argued that racist propaganda is the root of racist violence and must be dealt with. This, of course, still leaves open the question of how it might be combated and whether investment should be concentrated on legal enforcement, technological controls or educational efforts. Hence we return to the question of exploring different self-regulatory approaches.

    One of the major difficulties faced by European countries in dealing with racist content on the Internet is that much of the illegal content is hosted outside Europe in countries where it is impossible to stop the perpetrator, due to the ineffective functioning of the legal system. Alternatively, the content may not even be considered illegal in the host country, such as the United States, and therefore cannot be regulated. In either case, the author cannot be prosecuted and the content remains accessible to European citizens via the Internet even though it is illegal in Europe.

    The question of how to reconcile the differences in substantive law between the United States and Europe is emphasized by new legislative proposals, including the enactment of the Council of Europe Protocol to the Convention on Cybercrime on the Criminalisation of Acts of a Racist or Xenophobic Nature Committed through Computer Systems, which defines a European standard for hate speech. Similarly, the European Commission has presented a proposal for a unitary European approach that would criminalise specifically racist and xenophobic conduct and speech on-line and off. Finally, the translation of the European E-Commerce Directive (and its provisions on ISP exemption from liability) into national legislation highlights the enforcement disparity.

    The international difficulties encountered in trying to regulate hate speech have suggested that self-regulation by the Internet industry and Internet users may provide a more effective alternative. In exploring these options, a number of important issues need to be considered, including: the mechanics and cost of such an international scheme, incentives to participation, risks to free and non-illegal speech, effectiveness in dealing with the problem, unintended consequences, mechanisms for legal oversight and review and mechanisms for public accountability and transparency. It is clear, too, that to develop effective self-regulatory procedures requires greater knowledge of the scope and nature of the problem of illegal racist content and the concomitant threat, if any, to developing a vibrant marketplace of ideas on the Net.

    As Mark Weitzman pointed out, we are faced now with a choice between two goods: free speech or ridding ourselves of hate. Neither one can be realized completely but we can try to understand better the consequences of both policies. We have to ensure that in fighting against racism, we continue to protect our democratic values of accountability, due process, openness and a commitment to free speech.

    Pim Fortuyn's murder made tolerance a key issue

    A Somali refugee and former Muslim is a sure bet to become a Netherlands MP for a conservative party in the 22 January general elections. Ayaan Hirsi Ali recently came out of a seclusion prompted by death threats made against her after she campaigned against what she called the oppression of women under Islam. Her role in the election campaign will be a prominent one, highlighting some fundamental differences between western and Islamic culture. Now back in the limelight, Ms Hirsi Ali has apologised for referring to Islam as a backward religion. But she stands by her criticism of the status of women under Islam.

    Sitting calmly in her office at the VVD party headquarters, with her bodyguards waiting outside, Ms Hirsi Ali reflected on what had caused such a furore. "The most important verse, which I still refer to, is in the Koran and it is the verse which says women should obey the male members of their families - their fathers and their husbands - and if they do not do that then the husband may beat his wife," she said. "That's also a side of Islam and I've pointed to it and I've said there are millions of people who carry out just that simple verse. "Millions of Muslim women all around the world are oppressed in the name [of] Islam. "And as a woman who was brought up with the tradition of Islam, I think it's not just my right but also my obligation to call these things by name."

    Political defection
    While in hiding, Ms Hirsi Ali changed her political colours. She defected from the Labour party to the right-wing liberals, because she felt the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) was more prepared to tackle the problems faced by Muslim women. Her outspokenness sparked heated reactions from all sides of society, but she says it has gained her the respect of some members of the Muslim community. "Well, among some Muslims who are not willing to come to [the] foreground because they do not want to face the same dangers, I am welcome," she said. "But there is also a small group who are so enraged that they're willing to do something terrible to me. "And I think that is also another horrible side of Islam - the fact that there is absolutely no toleration."

    Sensitive issues
    Tolerance was a key issue for the Netherlands in 2002. The murdered populist politician Pim Fortuyn, who was killed nine days before elections in May, also called Islam a backward religion. He did not want to tolerate immigrants. His self-confessed assassin, an animal rights activist, could not stand his intolerance. A cornerstone value of Dutch society, tolerance is bound to be central to the January election campaign. And Ms Hirsi Ali is sure to be, once again, at the centre of controversial debate, where sensitive issues, like asylum seekers and the integration of ethnic minorities, are high on the political agenda.
    ©BBC News

    Issues relating to the country's Roma population caused consternation in many spheres in 2002 - from negotiations with Brussels over EU entry requirements to political bickering between parties. With an estimated population of 400,000, the Roma are Slovakia's second-largest minority behind the Hungarians. Many Roma activists say that racial discrimination causes the group's most serious problems, including high unemployment rate, a low level of education, substandard living conditions and a lack of access to health care. While the Slovak government has taken some steps to reduce the number of Roma seeking political asylum abroad, freeing money for Roma projects and expanding the role of an advisory office on Roma affairs, activists say few realistic ideas have been put forward, and institutional discrimination against the minority remains widespread.

    In 2002, the Roma's lot did not improve:

  • Early February - A group of 160 Roma from eastern Slovakia demands asylum in Norway.

  • February 5 - The European Court of Human Rights rules that Belgium in 1999 violated the rights of Slovak Roma asylum applicants by detaining them in a camp near Brussels airport; the court ruled that the Roma should be compensated.

  • February 8 - A police officer from the village of Jarovnice allegedly asks Roma journalist Denisa Havrl'ová of the Romano l'il nevo newspaper to show him a hygiene certificate before he would shake her hand.

  • February 12 - Jozef Vojdula, head of the Prešov regional police, comes to the aid of his colleague and says all police officers are obliged to protect their health while carrying out their duties, and that no police force rules dictate that an officer must shake hands with someone.

  • February 23-24 - A group of 60 Slovak Roma arrive home in Košice from Norway, where they travelled to claim asylum. Another 70 Roma await return from the Scandinavian country, which processed their claims in three weeks.

  • March 11 - An inspection conducted by the Interior Ministry has ruled that the police officer from Jarovnice did not have a racial motive in refusing to give his hand toHavrl'ová, but instead that "his behaviour was justified in the interest of protecting his safety and health". Later,Havrl'ová is charged with assault on a public official.

  • April 1 - Jozef Balogh of Košice becomes the first Slovak Roma to be compensated by Germany for being interned in a forced labour camp during the second world war.

  • April 22 - The government frees Sk3 million ($64,000) for social and cultural projects benefiting the Roma minority, including bringing gas and mains electricity to some Roma settlements.

  • May - The Medical Faculty of Bratislava's Commenius University says it wants to change its entrance exams to make it easier for Roma students to gain access to the prestigious school. Unlike other applicants, Roma students will be required to score only 50 per cent on entrance tests.

  • Late May - Sweden becomes the latest target of Slovak Roma seeking asylum. Swedish asylum officials have yet to grant even one asylum request, and say the exodus is being organised by unknown parties.

  • June 1 - Comenius University decides not to artificially lower entrance requirements for its Medical Faculty to make it easier for Roma applicants to gain admission, saying it would violate equal treatment provisions laid down in the constitution.

  • August 6 - A group of 21 Slovak Roma asylum seekers is returned from Norway after failing to comply with the country's asylum criteria. A further 260 Slovaks are still in Norway waiting for the authorities' decision.

  • September 23 - Leaders of the Roma Civil Initiative (ROI) party decide to abandon politics after recording a disastrous result of 0.29 per cent support in the general elections. No Roma representatives were elected on the ballots of parties that made it to parliament either.

  • Late September - The incoming government says it is assigning policy decisions on Slovakia's Roma minority to the Culture Ministry, but Culture Minister Rudolf Chmel is as surprised by the news as anyone else.

  • November 12 - The cabinet decides that the office of deputy Prime Minister Pál Csáky will retain responsibility for the Roma minority agenda, rather than passing it on to the Culture Ministry. The proposed shift had been criticised by the EU.

  • ©The Slovak Spectator

    Starting in February, scholars will be offered access to files that document the Vatican's relationship to Germany in the early years of the Hitler regime. The Vatican is planning to open its archives relating to interactions with Nazi Germany in the years leading up to World War II. The archives cover the period from 1922 to 1939, when Eugenio Pacelli, who later became Pope Pius XII, was the Vatican's ambassador to Berlin. Starting on Feb. 15, the church will open the archives to scholars who make a formal request to view them, according to an announcement released this weekend.

    The Catholic church has been under pressure from Jewish groups and scholars, who have accused the church of not doing enough to stop the persecution of Jews and others during the Holocaust. Daniel Goldhagen, author of the book A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair urged the church "To tell the truth. The church must stop its aggressive cover-up of 60 years, open its archives across Europe and commission studies from indepedent scholars so the truth becomes known," he wrote in the Los Angeles Times in November.

    The archives to be released do not cover the wartime period and the Vatican warned in a statement that most documents from 1931 to 1934 were destroyed by fires and bombing in World War II. The Vatican documents relating to Pope Pius XII's tenure from 1939 to 1958 will not be released until sometime after 2005. Italian historian Riccardo Calimani told the German Press Agency on Sunday that only after these documents are released will it be possible to judge Pope Pius XII's actions during World War II.
    ©Deutsche Welle

    Howells accused of failing to understand that gun culture in black music is reflection of society in which fans live

    The outspoken culture minister, Kim Howells, last night found himself at the centre of a race row after claiming that the time had come to stand up to the "idiots" of rap culture. Mr Howells, who previously attacked exhibits at the Turner Prize show as "cold, mechanical conceptual bullshit", launched into an extraordinary attack on black British music hours after the police had criticised the music industry for "glamorising guns". During a radio discussion on the killing of two black teenagers caught in the crossfire between rival gangs in Birmingham after a new year party, Mr Howells laid part of the blame at the door of British rappers. "The events in Birmingham are symptomatic of something very, very serious," he said. "For years I have been very worried about these hateful lyrics that these boasting macho idiot rappers come out with. "It is a big cultural problem. Lyrics don't kill people but they don't half enhance the fare we get from videos and films. It has created a culture where killing is almost a fashion accessory." He reserved his greatest fury for the controversial south London garage outfit, So Solid Crew, three of whose 30 members have been convicted or are awaiting trial on gun offences. "Idiots like the So Solid Crew are glorifying gun culture and violence," the minister claimed. "It is something new. I heard very interesting comments about [violence] in Victorian times and thugs on the street. But they didn't have these methods of popularising this stuff. It is very worrying and we ought to stand up and say it." Rappers who carry guns in their videos are "particularly sick", he said.

    Earlier, So Solid Crew were singled out for criticism by Metropolitan police assistant commissioner Tarique Ghaffur, who blamed a "backdrop of music" for alienating young men and encouraging them to use weapons as fashion statements. But last night Conor McNicholas, editor of the music magazine NME, described the minister's outburst as "deeply racist". "He doesn't understand the culture. It is this idea again that we have to do something about these out-of-control black people in our streets and the nasty culture they are perpetuating," he said. "They are deeply racist sentiments. We have to be absolutely clear, the gun culture is a function of urban deprivation and not because of the music. The music reflects the experience of young people and doesn't create it. "There is more rap music listened to and bought by white kids in Swindon than there is by black kids in Hackney, and nobody is talking about the gun culture on the streets of white suburban Britain." Mr McNicholas said he was surprised that Mr Howells had chosen to roam so far from his brief, which mainly involves tourism. "He clearly doesn't know what he is talking about. We have to recognise that these are young kids who are growing up in very difficult environments who happen to make music as a way of expressing themselves and their frustrations. Just because these guys are making music about the situation they are in does not mean they are perpetuating the culture. The music is not creating the problem."

    So Solid Crew, in common with many black musicians and promoters contacted by the Guardian yesterday, said they were sick of being tarred with the "drugs and violence" stereotype, and several refused to comment, claiming that debate only reinforced prejudice. Promoter Lance Lewis said it was nonsense to see rap as bloodthirsty and perverse. "No rapper con dones killing, anyone who says that doesn't know what they are talking about." A spokeswoman for So Solid Crew did say that the rise in gun violence had nothing to do with music. "It's poverty and crime which are escalating. Cocaine addiction is escalating too. They are just reflecting what they see around them. Their music is reflecting society just as Robert de Niro reflected American gangster society in his film roles. They are out there trying to make a positive difference in British black culture." She pointed to the fact that Ms Dynamite, whom the police have praised for her stance against drug dealers and black- on-black violence, has defended the band, who played a key part in her own emergence.

    Ms Dynamite has dismissed as "bullshit" the idea that the garage scene is inextricably linked with violence. "The media have blown it out of all proportion. Garage is a young London scene. That's why people in power are afraid of us and try everything to shut us down," she said. "There is violence wherever you go and the rave is a small part of it. It is a metaphor for life in general." She also refused to condemn So Solid's Ashley Walters, aka Asher D, who was released from jail in October after an 18-month sentence for possessing a gun. Walters, a former child actor, had been the subject of several death threats before his arrest following an altercation with a traffic warden. "I'm not one to judge, but he was naive," Ms Dynamite said. "Anyone who thinks they can carry a gun in this country is in for a shock." Academic Ben Bowling, of King's College, London, who is studying the effects of gun culture, claimed rap was hugely misunderstood. "Not only Ms Dynamite but lots of other bands like De La Soul and Us Three sing out against violence and drug culture. Rap is a very wide church," he said. He believed it was unfortunate that Mr Howells' comments had come at a time when "there is a movement on the street and in the music industry saying 'no' to violence". The only way gun crime was going to stop, he said, was for communities themselves to reject it, as had happened in the United States.
    ©The Guardian

    Sharp shift to the right: Nicolas Sarkozy tops Chirac in popularity

    When Nicolas Sarkozy took office as France's top cop last May, he was given a tough mandate: Stop crime, stop terrorism, stop illegal immigration and prevent the far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen from mounting another strong political challenge. So far, Sarkozy has performed so effectively that the entire government is benefiting from the glow. By putting more police officers on the streets, he has reduced crime. He has stepped up measures against terrorism while seeking to improve understanding between the government and moderate Muslims. He faced down a strike by truckers by threatening to confiscate their driving permits. He closed a refugee center near Calais that had been a major cause of friction with Britain. Most surprisingly, Sarkozy has succeeded in getting even a considerable part of the intellectual left to accept and even like his no-nonsense law-and-order program. All this, in the eyes of some political analysts, makes Sarkozy eminently a future prime minister and perhaps even president if he can continue his present winning streak. "People approve his actions, and he is popular with the media," said Francois Miquet-Marty, director of political studies at the Louis Harris Institute, a polling organization. Sarkozy, a member of the National Assembly and mayor of a wealthy Paris suburb, was tapped by President Jacques Chirac to become interior minister in response to the success of Le Pen, the leader of the National Front.

    Le Pen, playing on France's apparent sense of insecurity and fear of crime, had shocked Europe in April by finishing second place in the first round of the two-step presidential elections, knocking out the Socialist candidate, Lionel Jospin, and putting himself in the position of challenging Chirac. Chirac won the second round in May by a landslide, but to protect his vulnerable right flank, Chirac called on Sarkozy, who was not a political ally, to move from the town hall at Neuilly-sur-Seine, just west of Paris, to the ornate headquarters of the Interior Ministry across the street from Chirac's Elysee Palace. Since then, Sarkozy has amazed the French with his can-do spirit and his whirlwind visits around the country. Interior Ministry officials said Sarkozy was convinced that the Socialists had lost the presidential election because they ignored the concerns of ordinary people over rising crime, insecurity and illegal immigration - fears that Le Pen turned into political capital. Sarkozy avoids making the same mistake. With TV cameras in tow, he frequently visits the gritty suburbs where crime, ethnic tensions and drugs are rife. Whether this actually means anything seems to be secondary to the fact that people feel safer with him in charge, aides say. "Sweet Dreams," said a tongue-in-cheek headline in the newspaper Le Parisien recently. "Sarko's watching over you." But some fear the French may lose some of their freedoms because of a zero-tolerance crime bill about to take effect. Sarkozy insists that he has never abandoned democratic principles.

    The crime bill will turn some actions that are now legal, such as prostitution, into criminal offenses. It will outlaw "vagabonds," which some fear could be used against Romany travelers. And it will make it an offense to congregate in certain areas like the entries or stairways of the housing blocks that are seeding areas for drugs and crime in some suburbs around Paris and other big cities. To those who argue that this is an attack on the poor, Sarkozy replies, why not? Poor people are just as entitled to security as the wealthy. Opposition to the crime bill is expressed most notably by Abbe Pierre, a 90-year-old priest whose work on behalf of the homeless and disadvantaged has made him one of the most respected figures in France. He says Sarkozy's proposals will turn poor people, beggars and prostitutes into criminals without getting at the root of social problems or dealing with the criminal organizations that control begging and prostitution rackets. "The central point is that there are 2 million French people with no home or very bad situations with no sanitation and very little food," the priest said, "and you have to take care of them or you will never solve the problems."

    Sarkozy also is responsible for the government's relations with religious groups. Previous immigration ministers have been frustrated by the lack of any organization representing Islam, France's second religion, which meant that the government had no interlocutor. Under prodding from Sarkozy, the leaders of about 5 million Muslims last month finally agreed to establish a French Islamic Council. Kamal Kabtrane, leader of the mosque in Lyon, said the agreement was largely the result of repeated personal intervention by the minister. "Never before did anyone come to spend so much time with us," Kabtrane said. Sarkozy said that by enabling Islam to become better integrated into French civil life, the agreement was "a way of combating the Islam of the caves." Fears of a terrorist attack by Islamic fundamentalists remain paramount in the Interior Ministry's thinking. While telling the French that they have nothing to fear from "the Islam of the mosques," Sarkozy has ordered numerous sweeps against suspected Islamic radical groups and beefed-up security in public places.

    Sarkozy has spoken up staunchly in favor of the police, goes out to meet them on every conceivable occasion, obtained better equipment and arms for them and even persuaded them to do what once would have been unthinkable - team up with the rival paramilitary gendarmes in several areas to ensure that policing is more evenly spread across the national territory. He has made clear that there will be no more no-go areas for the police, who will get added powers to search houses and vehicles. He has obtained funding for 6,500 new police positions, and the government is expanding its prison capacity significantly so that people who are convicted of crimes will be more likely to go to jail. Combined with changes in the criminal justice system, including on-the-spot court hearings to deal with lesser offenses without delay, Sarkozy's policies add up to one of the sharpest shifts to the right in France in recent memory. But Sept. 11 and the fear of Islamic terrorism have made it easier for Sarkozy to push through these measures in the interests of national security.

    A recent Louis Harris poll published in the daily Liberation found that the government had a 68 percent approval rating because of its security policy, and another poll found Sarkozy rated higher in public esteem than either Chirac or his prime minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin. The Louis Harris poll indicated that Sarkozy had won over three-quarters of the people who voted for Le Pen and that his policies also were approved by nearly half of those who voted for far-left parties last spring.
    ©International Herald Tribune

    The head of President Vladimir Putin's human rights commission said Friday that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe should be allowed to resume its mission in the breakaway republic of Chechnya. "I'm convinced that in the current setting, the OSCE could reappear in Chechnya in a new quality, strengthen its humanitarian component, and draw financial and psychological resources for improving the position of refugees," Ella Pamfilova told Echo of Moscow radio, the Interfax news agency reported. Russian officials have long criticized the organization for trying to mediate a peace settlement between the government and Chechen rebels.
    ©International Herald Tribune

    Right-winger Rolandas Paksas scored an astonishing upset victory in a Lithuanian election on Sunday, unseating President Valdas Adamkus by a 10-point margin that could unsettle leaders of the European Union. Paksas, a 46-year-old former prime minister, rejected comparisons with populist radicals like France's Jean-Marie Le Pen and said he fully supported joining the EU next year. ``Right off, I'd like to send off a signal to the world that foreign policy will not change,'' Paksas told Reuters. ``My first visit (will) be to Brussels to meet EU leaders and clarify the situation on certain points that do not satisfy me.'' But some critics said he may pose a risk to Lithuania's hopes of membership, possibly as a result of looming conflict with the pro-EU, center-left government and parliament. He had been given little chance of unseating Adamkus, 30 years his senior, who has steered the former Soviet Baltic state toward NATO and EU membership while rebuilding ties with Moscow. But with just 52 percent of voters turning out for the runoff, the younger man, a keen stunt flier and former mayor of the capital Vilnius, won 54.9 percent to 45.1 percent for Adamkus, who has spent much of his life in the United States.

    The president had easily won last month's first round but Paksas appeared to have rallied support among those dissatisfied with post-communist economic and social hardships and attracted by his slogan ``Vote for Change'' and pledge to bolster security. ``Some people call me Le Pen, others call me a populist, demagogue, fascist or radical,'' he said, denying the charges. He set himself on a collision course with center-left Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas's coalition, however, saying: ``I see that several of the current ministers are not suitable.'' Some analysts said a domestic political tussle could disrupt plans for a referendum in May on joining the EU following last month's invitation along with nine others to join in May 2004. The country is also due to join the NATO defense pact next year.

    Foreign policy role
    Paksas, whose duties as head of state will be largely restricted to foreign policy and a limited role in approving the composition of the government, could find himself isolated in comparison to the broadly popular conservative Adamkus. A government source said Paksas might run into a brick wall trying to strong-arm the government: ``He can lose popularity quickly as he is unable to fulfil his promises,'' the source said. ``We have seen all the political forces, from left to right, opposing him and that does not bode well.'' Raimundas Lopata, director of the Institute of International Studies, said that if Paksas tried to force early parliamentary elections to reshape the government it could disrupt the EU referendum, even though polls show 64 percent for membership. ``With the EU referendum in May, it would have terrible consequences,'' Lopata said. Paksas accused Adamkus during the campaign of selling out to the EU in accession talks, especially on farm subsidies and for failing the get the EU to replace the old Ignalina Soviet-era nuclear plant with a modern reactor.

    Lopata said Paksas profited from populist promises: ``Losers, pessimists and nostalgic people have flocked to Paksas.'' But Tomas Andrejauskas, head of trading at Hansa-LTB bank said election promises to improve living standards were not necessarily a guide to what he would now do: ``Most interesting is how his relations with the ruling coalition will develop, and if he wants a conflict to what degree will he take it.'' Paksas said he would seek ``a constructive dialogue, not destruction,'' but added: ``I can work not only with the current coalition, but also with other possible coalitions.'' The nation of 3.5 million won independence from Moscow in 1991 and struggled to reorient its economy toward Western markets after 50 years in the Soviet Union but is now on the verge of realizing its goal of joining the wealthy EU club.

    Emigration of French Jews to Israel increased drastically last year in the wake of a string of attacks on members of the community. France, which has the largest Jewish population in the European Union, lost 2,326 citizens - a tiny fraction of the total community but the largest number in 30 years and double that of 2001. Their departure comes as many other Jews in Israel apply for EU visas - notably German - in order to escape the violence in the Middle East. During 2002, a spate of suspected anti-Semitic attacks were carried out in France, believed to be retaliation for Israel's occupation of Palestinian towns and killing of civilians. At the end of last week, a Paris rabbi was stabbed and slightly injured outside his synagogue. On Monday, his car was set alight.

    Boycott abandoned
    Hostility towards Israel's behaviour towards its neighbours has also spread to the French academic community, although a boycott proposed by the elite Paris VI University now appears to have been dropped. Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the university on Monday night to demonstrate against a decision to discontinue research and educational exchanges with Israel as a show of political protest. Many academics and politicians outraged by Israel's actions in the Palestinian territories said severing educational ties was a wholly unproductive way to confront the issue. Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe sent a representative to read a personal message which called the university's boycott "both a shocking act and a tragic error". Under a headline titled "No to boycott", the Le Monde newspaper said such a ban would "not signify a split with a state and its politics, but with a humane community".

    Solidarity display
    The liberal rabbi Gabriel Farhi was stabbed in the stomach outside a synagogue on Friday and his car scorched in an underground garage of his apartment building on Monday. French President Jacques Chirac denounced the stabbing during an annual New Year's meeting with leaders of France's Catholic, Protestant and Jewish communities on Monday. "This odious act arouses indignation," he said. The French Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, is to attend a special service at the synagogue on Wednesday to show solidarity with the Jewish community.
    ©BBC News

    By Gretel C. Kovach, Christian Science Monitor

    While the chief justice in ancient Egypt was a goddess named Maat, modern Egyptian women haven't fared so well. They've been warming the bench, not presiding over it, more than 50 years after the first woman sued for the right to become judge. The law of the land - not the laws on the books - has barred women from ruling Egypt's courts. But thanks to a push by First Lady Suzanne Mubarak, the unofficial cultural capital of the Middle East may soon appoint its first female justices, according to the National Council of Women, established by the president in 2000. The council won't say who's up for the post, but a court official told The Associated Press that Tahany el Gebaly was nominated last week by the Supreme Constitutional Court. During her 30-year career, el Gebaly became the first woman to join the official lawyers' association of Egypt, and in 1998 she sued for the right to become judge. When reached on her cell phone in between incessant busy signals, she was breathless with happiness and pride over the news. "I never thought it would happen," she said. A court official told her the appointment is a done deal, but President Hosni Mubarak won't make the official announcement until Jan. 23. Another front-runner is Fatma Lashene, a popular, hard-working lawyer who avoided the roles of wife and mother to devote herself to law. She and other women lawyers have been arguing for years that nothing in the Constitution or in other laws bars them from the bench. "My first dream was to become a doctor. Now, instead of curing sick people, I'll cure the traditions," Lashene says.

    Aside from the conservative Gulf states, almost all Arab nations have women judges. Even undeveloped nations like Morocco and Yemen appointed women to the bench more than a decade ago. Egypt's neighbor Sudan installed women judges back in 1965, but Islamic conservatives barred them from such posts in 1989. In Egypt, about 20 percent of lawyers are women, and women have served as ambassadors and cabinet ministers. But the judiciary has remained off-limits. Egypt gave birth to the women's movement in the Middle East back in 1924 when feminist Hoda Sharaawi tore off her veil. But 30 years ago, when U.S. women began demanding more rights, an Islamic fundamentalist movement was building in Egypt that may have crested only now. The militant groups declared a cease-fire in 1997, and since then the tone has softened. The lawyers' syndicate was a notorious Islamist stronghold, and was temporarily disbanded in 1995 to curb radical religious influence from the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and other groups. At the time, el Gebaly was attacked by her colleagues as being too "emotional" for the job, but now that she is likely to become Egypt's first woman judge, her former critics are calling with congratulations.

    These days, the Brotherhood is sponsoring female candidates for parliament, as long as they're veiled, and Egyptians are using Islam to argue for the expansion of women's rights, citing role models like the woman appointed judge by the second Caliph Omar Ibn Khattab. "We are an Islamic country, and there is nothing in sharia (Islamic law) that prevents a woman from being a judge," says Mahmoud Yassien Talat, a lawyer representing his daughter Amaany in her bid to begin the track to judgeship. In 1998, when Egyptian women seemed on the brink of breaking into the judiciary, prominent judges like Mohammed Magdi Murgan panned the idea in the semiofficial press, saying: "The natural place for a woman is the house, in the shadow of a man." Judge Murgan still doesn't think women are suitable to rule on criminal cases, but he says he's no longer categorically against women justices. "We will be happy to see women judges in family courts, in business and property disputes. Women are more honest than men, and they've worked well as judges in many Arabic countries," he says.

    Middle Easterners appear to be at a turning point, realizing how far behind they have fallen regarding women's rights even as they take significant steps forward. The recent Arab Human Development Report, whose lead author is Egyptian, says Arab women have the lowest level of political and economic participation in the world and adds that sidelining women is bad for democracy, and bad for the economy. "Society as a whole suffers" because of it, the report concludes. This year, the Middle East garnered international applause when Bahraini women voted for the first time, and through affirmative action, Moroccan women won 35 seats in Parliament. In Egypt, women have long played a significant role in society, but attitudes dating from the pre-Islamic era and beyond are proving difficult to snuff out. "There's been a lot of talk, but most people here still think it will be very difficult for women to be judges," Murgan says. Egypt's most famous feminist, Nawal el Saadawi, is refraining from weighing in on whether the new judges will be able to right the imbalance in rights for women. After all, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, she says, contributed to a backlash against women's rights. "Of course it is a good thing that women are pushing their way up. But it's not just a matter of women judges. You have to look at her mind. Will she rule on behalf of women's rights, or will she perpetuate polygamy and other backwards ways of thinking?" el Saadawi asks.

    In the international press this week, el Saadawi argues that Muslim women are in a crisis, caught in a trench between the pressures of modernization and the power of the fundamentalists. Successful career women like el Gebaly and Lashene, for instance, are among the small percentage of Arab women who are childless. "I am not convinced that women are going forward in Egypt; we are going backward," says el Saadawi, who once fled the country after Islamists declared her an apostate, attempted to dissolve her marriage, and threatened to kill her. This isn't the end of the struggle for women's rights in Egypt, concedes el Gebaly. "We still have far to go. But now our society is saying it won't tolerate discrimination against women." Opinions vary on whether women are advancing their position in society. But if Egypt appoints its first female judges this month, they will at last be able to deliver their own verdict.
    ©Christian Science Monitor Service

    Effective Jan. 1, Ukrainian law will treat people who live together much the same as though they are legally married. Either can go to court to divide property or demand alimony after separation. Recognition of common-law marriage is just one of many changes brought about by the country's new family code, which took effect on Jan. 1. The code, passed by parliament in 2001, also introduced new concepts such as engagement and paternity identification, as well as further defined the rules pertaining to divorce and adoption. Former parliament Deputy Zoryslava Romovska, who drafted and spearheaded passage of the law, said her personal experience as a family law teacher at Lviv National University helped her to develop the law, which she touted as one of Europe's best. Romovska said almost every paragraph in the law has a real?life example from her experience behind it. "For years, many people have come to my department at the university asking for help with family disputes," she said. "Most of the code is based on cases from real life."

    For the first time, the law defines engagement as the date a couple applies for a marriage license. Should one side back out after engagement, he or she may be liable for the partner's wedding preparation expenses. "I remember in the village where I was born a wedding was ruined because the groom simply did not show up," Romovska said. "The bride's family had to put all the food and drink in front of their home and sell it. It was sad." If that story had happened now, she said, the groom would have had to reimburse his jilted bride for part of the expenses. Romovska believes the most revolutionary change is the law's introduction of paternity identification. A woman may now demand alimony based on a paternity test even if the two are not married. Paternity identification may involve a variety of proofs, including a DNA test. A court will determine the amount of the alimony. Before, alimony ranged from 25 percent to 33 percent of the father's salary. "If a man declares his salary is only Hr 180, while he drives a Mercedes and his new wife wears a mink coat, the judge will be able to set the alimony adequately, instead of one third of the salary he declares," Romovska said.

    The provision is important in a country where 17 percent of all children born last year were born outside marriage, she said. Many women have also opted for abortions, fearing they wouldn't be able to receive alimony sufficient to support their children. That brought Ukraine's abortion rate to 1.2 per marriage, one of the highest rates in Europe. "It's not a secret that most women go for abortions because they are unable to financially support a child," Romovska said. "I think that this code will also improve the demographic situation in Ukraine." The code also obliges a parent to pay alimony until a child reaches the age of 23, if a student, as compared to 18 in the previous law. The maximum age of a child that may be adopted has also been pushed up, from 18 years to 23 years old. "Once in Lviv there was a family that lost their son in an accident," she said. "They met a young man who was orphaned and somehow managed to adopt him, though he was already 18," she said. Authorities cancelled the adoption after learning the boy was 18. "But who benefited from it?" Romovska questioned. "Why should people suffer because someone said that adoption was not possible after 18?"

    Many provisions in the new code remain unchanged though. For example, the age of consent for men and women remained 18 and 17 years respectively. Another issue Romovska feels strongly about is homosexual marriages. Even though a gay non-government organization, Regional Information Center for Gays and Lesbians, lobbied for the inclusion of a provision allowing homosexual marriages, none was included. "When you deal with the issue of human rights you should know your limits," she said. "In Western countries, this issue has been brought to the point of absurdity."
    © KP News

    Trevor Phillips on shortlist for £110,000 race relations post

    Trevor Phillips, the broadcaster and London assembly chairman, is running neck-and-neck with Zahida Manzoor, former head of the Northern and Yorkshire region of the NHS executive, in the contest to become the new head of the commission for racial equality. A decision on the £110,000 job, Britain's top race relations post, is imminent after final interviews yesterday and today with the home secretary, David Blunkett, for the three candidates who made it to the final shortlist. The third is Naaz Coker, chairwoman of the Refugee Council and race and diversity director for the King's Fund.

    Contrary to weekend press reports that Asian candidates had been eliminated to leave an entirely Afro-Caribbean shortlist, two of the three finalists are women of Asian origin. Two Afro-Caribbeans, the barrister, part-time judge and former CRE commissioner Lincoln Crawford and the CRE's acting chairwoman, Beverley Bernard, fell off the shortlist when it was whittled down from five to three. Mr Phillips, 48, is seen as Downing Street's and Mr Blunkett's preferred choice, though he has clashed with the home secretary more than once on racial issues. But Ms Manzoor has emerged as an equally strong candidate after a rigorous programme of tests and interviews conducted by an independent recruitment company, Veredus.

    The final choice is for Mr Blunkett, who will forward the successful candidate's name to Downing Street for approval. Officials hope the tough selection process will defuse any suggestions of cronyism if Mr Phillips, a New Labour supporter, wins through. The job, which drew around 120 applicants, is one of the most high-profile and sensitive jobs in the field of race relations. As well as representing individuals taking employers to tribunals for race discrimination, the CRE carries out formal investigations into organisations accused of racism and takes a leading role in defining the government's policies on race.

    It is the first time such a stringent selection process has been used to fill the post. The former head, Gurbux Singh, resigned last summer after a drunken row with a policeman outside Lord's cricket ground. The five who reached the shortlist were presented with a number of scenarios, from budgetary problems to sensitive racial issues, and required to say within a short time limit how they would deal with them. They went through interviews conducted by the Home Office permanent secretary, John Gieve, and two independent panel members. Whoever wins the job will be a leading candidate, in a few years' time, to head the super equality commission the government plans to create from the existing commissions for race, sex and disability discrimination.

    Ms Manzoor, 44, was born in Rawalpindi in Pakistan and came to Britain at the age of four. Married with two children, she qualified as a nurse, midwife and health visitor, and rose to become the youngest health authority chairman in Britain, at Bradford district health authority in 1992. She went on to serve as chairwoman of the Northern and Yorkshire region of the NHS executive, overseeing a large number of NHS trusts and health authorities, from 1997 until the office disappeared in a reorganisation in 2001. She also has a track record with the CRE, where she was appointed a commissioner in 1993 and served as deputy chairman from 1995-98.

    Ms Coker, a former doctor, chairs the independent Refugee Council, the largest organisation working with asylum seekers and refugees, and heads the race and diversity programme at the King's Fund, an independent healthcare charity. She has written widely on institutional racism and edited Racism in Medicine: an Agenda for Change, published in 2001.
    ©The Guardian

    The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent,
    Having convened its first session from 25 to 29 November 2002 at the Palais des Nations in Geneva;
    Having reflected on its mandate and considered statements and submissions from Governments and non-governmental organizations, the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent submits the following conclusions and recommendations to the Commission on Human Rights for consideration at its fifty-ninth session.

    I. Conclusions

    1. The Working Group considers that people of African descent living in the diaspora are the historical and continuing victims of the transatlantic, Mediterranean and Indian Ocean slave trades and have been recognized as such in the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. The United Nations has recognized this group as one whose human rights must be promoted and protected, and who require support and a representative voice at the international level;

    2. The Working Group believes that the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action provide a good framework for understanding the issues of racial discrimination facing people of African descent;

    3. The historical and contemporary experiences of people of African descent show that whilst they share similarities, people of African descent nevertheless represent, a diverse community at different stages of development and with different issues, needs and expectations; these variations should be acknowledged and further studied;

    4. The Working Group is of the view that the understanding of the situation of people of African descent in various regions is a long process that has just begun within the United Nations framework. It is of the view that its work would be greatly enhanced by on-site regional briefings and interaction with people of African descent communities, NGOs, government officials, national institutions and institutes in order to assemble primary and secondary information first hand. The experiences of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations and the Working Group on Minorities of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights is illustrative in this regard;

    5. The Working Group was enlightened by the information provided by the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance on the impact of slavery and the slave trade on the societies where they took place, the issue of reparation, and the contributions of people of African descent to their own liberation and to the development of their countries;

    6. The Working Group is of the view that there is an intrinsic link between its work and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) intercultural project "The Slave Route". This project is an achievement in terms of its dissemination of the history of people of African descent and the study and depiction of their contributions to their countries. The Working Group specifically recommends that information about this contribution be widely disseminated by UNESCO and Governments;

    7. The Working Group intends to use a multidisciplinary approach when considering the situation of people of African descent and hopes to be able to benefit from the contribution of specialists from various fields, including economics, sociology, psychology, political science, religion and spirituality, in order to form a comprehensive understanding of the problems facing people of African descent;

    8. The Working Group wishes to bear in mind the diversity of situations concerning people of African descent. It intends to maintain a local, national, regional and international perspective in order to consider the needs of these people in a holistic manner;

    9. Given the complexity and diversity of issues relating to people of African descent, and given the fact that few NGOs and community-based organizations of people of African descent were able to attend its first session, the Working Group believes that a proper consideration and understanding of the complex issues concerning racial discrimination faced by people of African descent will require more than two sessions;

    10. The Working Group regrets that it could not benefit from the full membership of experts at its first session and believes that its work would have been greatly enhanced by the contributions of the remaining experts. It encourages the Western European and Other Group of States to nominate an expert as soon as possible, so that the Working Group may expect its full complement at the next session.

    II. Recommendations
    11. In accordance with its mandate, the Working Group proposes the following to the Commission on Human Rights:

    The undertaking of a study of the problems of racial discrimination faced by people of African descent living in the diaspora. To that end, all relevant information should be gathered from Governments, NGOs and other appropriate sources, including through holding public meetings.

    12. In order to clarify the scope of its mandate and generate a concerted effort in addressing the problems of racial discrimination facing people of African descent, each expert has undertaken to prepare a paper on a substantive topic and to submit it to the Working Group at the next session, as follows:

    (a) Mr. Peter Lesa Kasanda will prepare a paper on the identification and definition of "people of African descent", exploring how racial discrimination is manifested in the various regions;
    (b) Mr. Georges Nicolas Jabbour will prepare a paper on the issue of reparations and people of African descent;
    (c)Ms. Irina Zlatescu will prepare a paper on how to use the United Nations human rights mechanisms to effectively protect and promote the human rights of people of African descent;

    13. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) should assist its work by collecting various kinds of documentation, including publications, reports and studies undertaken by the various United Nations agencies, bodies, departments, and committees, as well as by institutes, academics, groups and individuals, that are relevant to the human rights of people of African descent;

    14. The Working Group, with the assistance of OHCHR, recommends the sending of a questionnaire to Governments, specialized agencies, intergovernmental organizations, national institutions, academics and NGOs in order to assemble and synthesize existing information about the situation of people of African descent, and undertake a preliminary analysis of the issues of racial discrimination facing people of African descent;

    15. The OHCHR web site should include a specific link to sites dealing with issues of concern to people of African descent;

    16. The Working Group would consult with the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) to discuss how it might contribute to the Working Group's work and to a greater understanding of Afro-descendant issues by undertaking specific studies on the economic and social development of people of African descent;

    17. The members of the Working Group believe that their attendance at events and meetings concerning people of African descent would provide them with an opportunity opportunities to gather and exchange information as well as to make the mandate and initiatives of the Working Group known to various partners.
    The drafting of measures to ensure full and effective access to the justice system by people of African descent

    18. A study should be carried out on structural racial discrimination in domestic public defender/legal aid systems in various regions to determine the nature and extent of the problem and make recommendations to Governments that may wish to reform their systems of free legal representation for indigent persons, which are used disproportionately by people of African descent in the justice system;

    19. The Working Group believes that it will be necessary to study and/or compile further information on the issue of racial discrimination faced by people of African descent in areas such as jury selection, judicial appointments and access to legal and judicial training;
    The submission of recommendations on the design, implementation and enforcement of effective measures to eliminate racial profiling of people of African descent

    20. Member States are encouraged to address the persistence of the socio-cultural ideology inherited from the slavery period that contributes to a perpetuation of racism and racial discrimination against people of African descent. In this connection, the Working Group encourages the sharing and exchange of good practices of States Members of the United Nations that are dealing with the situation of people of African descent and that have been able to address the negative heritage of slavery and to build integrated multicultural societies. The experts believe that the meetings of the Working Group would provide a useful forum for such an exchange;

    21. The Working Group encourages Member States to reform their educational systems to reflect the history and culture of people of African descent and the history of slavery. States are also urged to consider whether the educational system reflects the image and identity of people of African descent, and whether it serves to encourage multi-ethnic and pluralistic societies.

    22. The Working Group proposes that a study be undertaken on the media and people of African descent that would focus in part on stereotypes, negative imagery and issues of invisibility. The study should also focus on how media makes and can continue to make positive contributions to combating racial stereotypes and prejudice and to enriching cultural diversity and multicultural societies. The experts encourage independent media organizations to consider undertaking such studies as well.

    The elaboration of short-, medium- and long-term proposals for the elimination of racial discrimination against people of African descent, including proposals for a mechanism to monitor and promote all their human rights, bearing in mind the need for close collaboration with international and development institutions and the specialized agencies of the United Nations system in this regard. The human rights of people of African descent could be promoted, inter alia, by:
    (a) Devoting special attention to their needs, inter alia through the preparation of specific programmes of action;

    23. The Working Group encourages States and national institutions to include people of African descent, in particular, in the elaboration of national plans of action to combat racism and racial discrimination, as recommended in the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.
    (b) Designing special projects, in collaboration with people of African descent, to support their initiatives at the community level and to facilitate the exchange of information and technical know-how between these populations and experts in the relevant areas;

    24. The Working Group recommends that concerned Governments adopt measures to support the community initiatives of people of African descent in areas such as economic development, socio-political development, release and rehabilitation of prisoners, special educational programmes (from early childhood through post-graduate), community legal systems, mental and physical health, training and skills development, and spiritual and artistic development;

    25. The major treaty monitoring bodies should pay particular attention to the situation of people of African descent and request Governments to provide specific information relating to this group in their periodic reports. The Working Group intends to strengthen its relationship with these bodies and other human rights mechanisms;

    26. The Working Group recognizes that gender as well as racial discrimination faced by women of African descent can be manifest by illiteracy, unemployment, lack of access to land, lack of drinking water and sanitation, and violence. The Working Group encourages Afro-descendant women's groups to take part in the Working Group process and intends to ensure that a gender analysis of the issues of racial discrimination facing people of African descent is systematically maintained in its work.
    (c) Developing programmes intended for people of African descent that allocate additional investments in health systems, education, housing, electricity, drinking water and environmental control measures and that promote equal opportunities in employment, as well as other affirmative or positive action initiatives, within the human rights framework

    27. The Working Group notes that the linkages between slavery, colonialism and underdevelopment should be studied and that their ramifications on Afro-descent communities should be taken into account in development policies. It is supportive of such work currently being undertaken by the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. In this regard, the Working Group also encourages Governments of in the affected regions to use regional arrangements and organizations such as the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) as a means of addressing the effects of underdevelopment, which tend to impact on Afro-descendant communities disproportionately;

    28. The Working Group would like to invite the World Bank to prepare and present at its next session a paper on the work that it is undertaking to mainstream the issues of Afro-descendants in the Latin American and Caribbean region in its programmes and operations;

    29. The Working Group encourages Mr. Doudou Diène, the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, to continue to pay particular attention to the situation of people of African descent and to strengthen his relationship with the Working Group and provide it with relevant information that he might gather during his various country visits. The Working Group wishes to continue to benefit from his expertise, and in this regard the Group has invited Mr. Diène to prepare a paper on existing historical memorial sites that commemorate slavery and the slave trade worldwide and their cultural, educational and healing significance. It also asks him to reflect on the possibility of creating libraries/institutes for keeping archives, documentation and educational materials about slavery and the slave trade. This study should be submitted to the next session of the Working Group;

    30. Governments should allocate part of their national budget to programmes or projects to improve the economic and social conditions of people of African descent. International financial and development institutions should ensure that funds allocated to such projects benefit these communities directly; priority should be given to reducing the poverty of Afro-descendants;

    31. The Working Group notes with appreciation that some States have expressed regret for their colonial policies that contributed to the scourges of slavery and the slave trade and encourages other States to consider taking similar action;

    32. The Working Group encourages the United Nations to consider declaring an international decade for people of African descent as soon as possible in order to sensitize the international community and the citizens of Member States about the situation of these people;

    33. The Working Group encourages OHCHR to consider establishing a fellowship programme with a gender and regional balance (similar to that established for Indigenous Fellows) for young people of African descent in order that they may gain first-hand experience about international human rights law, international human rights mechanisms and the United Nations system.

    34. The Working Group notes with satisfaction that the General Assembly has proclaimed the year 2004 as the International Year to Commemorate the Struggles against Slavery and its Abolition and recommends that OHCHR organize events on that occasion to honour the memory of people of African descent. It also encourages the General Assembly to adopt a resolution recognizing 21 August as the International Day for Remembrance of Slavery and the Slave Trade and their tragic consequences.
    Organization of and participation in future sessions of the Working Group

    35. In order to ensure the full and equal participation of NGOs of people of African descent in its work, the Working Group recommends that:

  • (a) The dates of its sessions, provisional timetables and agenda be published, including on the OHCHR website, and invitations sent out well in advance of all meetings;

  • (b) The participation of NGOs representing people of African descent be funded from the voluntary fund called for by the Commission on Human Rights in its resolution 2002/68;

  • 36. The Working Group is of the view that the participation in its meetings of eminent personalities from African descent communities and the international human rights community will enhance the profile of the Group and the richness of its studies. It wishes to encourage Governments to include such personalities on their delegations. The Working Group will also take steps to invite such personalities;

    37. The Working Group feels strongly that the issues of people of African descent should receive the attention of all stakeholders and intends to generate broad-based support for its work. It would like to encourage all States Members of the United Nations and the specialized agencies, in particular development agencies and financial institutions, to become more involved in its work. The Group is of the view that countries from the Western Group, in particular, have much to contribute by sharing their positive experiences in dealing with issues affecting people of African descent.

    People applying for asylum well after they have arrived in the UK will no longer be eligible for state support, under measures which come into force on Wednesday. The changes - part of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act - have been criticised by refugee welfare groups who say thousands of asylum seekers will be left homeless and penniless. The new rules will affect asylum seekers who do not put in their claims on arrival at ports and airports but apply later on, some time after they have entered the UK. They will no longer be entitled to support for living costs or help with housing, although exceptions will be made for families with children, pregnant women and those with special needs. The Home Office says the measure will stop economic migrants from using the asylum system to delay their removal.

    Destitution plea
    But refugee support organisations have been unanimous in their criticism, describing the rules as "draconian". A representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said the changes would result in hardship and destitution. Protests against the new measures will take place later on Wednesday and a legal challenge is likely. Shami Chakrabarti, a lawyer for civil rights group Liberty urged a rethink by ministers. She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "This is going to force people on to the streets in the depths of a British winter."

    Court challenge
    Ms Chakrabarti said hundreds of people every day could be affected as there were various credible reasons why people might claim asylum later. "Even if an asylum claim is incredible, this is just not acceptable in a civilised society," she added. Liberty and other groups are planning a High Court challenge to the measures. The Refugee Council also condemned the measures as "appalling", predicting they would only add more chaos to the asylum system. There have been suggestions by some figures that even with tougher measures on asylum seeking, the UK will continue to be seen as a "soft touch". The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, recently said more refugees were targeting the UK because of its international reputation.

    'Reasonable' action
    Home Office Minister Beverley Hughes defended the measures, saying they were designed to tackle real abuses of the asylum system. Ms Hughes said action would not be taken against people who could show why they could not reasonable have filed their asylum claim earlier. "The asylum system is for people fleeing persecution," she told Today. "It is not unreasonable to expect that people fleeing persecution will want to claim asylum as soon as possible." The measures were aimed at deterring economic migrants from claiming asylum.
    ©BBC News

    An interesting project aimed at teaching people more about ethnic minorities in the Czech Republic has just come to an end. Two non-governmental organisations - the Prague Multicultural Centre and Brno's Youth for Intercultural Understanding - took part in the project, which was called 'Diversity in Libraries' and was part of an anti-racism campaign launched by the Czech government at the beginning of this year.
    Alena Skodova reports:

    The main aim of the project was to inform people - both adults and children - about the differences in lifestyle of ethnic minorities living in the Czech Republic - primarily the Roma and Vietnamese communities. Books are considered one of the main means of educating people, that's why nine book titles with multicultural themes were chosen and sent to 500 public libraries throughout the country free of charge, to acquaint readers with the different customs and habits of ethnic minorities in the Czech Republic.

    Radio Prague spoke with organizer Lenka Sramkova:

    "We had quite a big goal - to influence people's thinking and teach them to be more tolerant towards ethnic minorities that live in our country. By sending the nine titles to libraries we wanted to offer people a way how to learn more about them, and tried to remove prejudices that Czech people might have, and we hope we were successful, even though the project lasted for only three months."

    The organizers chose books from different spheres, ranging from historical books and fiction to Roma and Vietnamese fairy tales, and there was also a comics for teenagers, called 'A racist - who me?', so all ages and tastes were catered for. One of the most successful books was an autobiographical story by a Roma writer, Emilie Lackova, called 'I was Born Under a Happy Star' which describes the way the Romanies live. Readers who like encyclopaedias, could choose a concise book on minorities in the Czech Republic. It reminded readers that people in other cultures have different traditions and values, so one could learn there for instance that when a Vietnamese person smiles at us, his smile may have a different meaning than we might expect. And naturally I wondered what meaning that might be...

    "When a Vietnamese smiles at you, it might mean of course that he or she is expressing happiness, but Vietnamese people usually smile at you also when they want to apologize for something, which might cause problems, because his smile can be misinterpreted in a situation when you are annoyed."

    The organizers also created a special accompanying programme which they brought to public libraries in 13 Czech cities and towns. It had two parts - one for children and one for adults. Children read Roma and Vietnamese fairy tales, sang their songs and also learned how to eat with chopsticks. Adults had discussions mainly about the Roma minority and of course there was a lot of Gypsy music accompanying discussions, exhibitions of photographs and other ventures. Miss Sramkova said that the project was very successful especially with children who are not burdened with prejudice or racist thinking, but a lot of adults showed interest as well. The organizers plan to continue with similar projects next year.
    ©Radio Prague

    A former North Vancouver high school student who was bullied for five years by students who called him a homosexual has had his victory at a human rights hearing overturned. Azmi Jubran was awarded $4,000 by the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal in April. Jubran, who is not gay, testified he was called names, punched and spit upon in incidents that occurred both during school hours as well as before and after school. The B.C. Supreme Court judge who overturned the tribunal's ruling noted the students who teased Jubran, making his years at Handsworth secondary "a living hell," knew he wasn't gay. In his nine-page ruling, Justice Allen Stewart condemned the taunting as "probably capable of being understood only by the addled brains of certain teenagers." But the code doesn't apply to non-homosexuals, the judge ruled. In April, the tribunal ruled the school board had contravened the Human Rights Code "by failing to provide a learning environment free of discrimination." Stewart found the words in the code that define discrimination don't apply in Jubran's case. The code forbids discrimination "because of the sex or sexual orientation of that person or class of persons."
    ©Times Colonist

    A Norwegian neo-Nazi who unleashed a stream of Nazi rhetoric during a demonstration two years ago did not violate a key law meant to fight racism. Norway's Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the neo-Nazi's claims are protected by other laws guaranteeing freedom of expression. Terje Sjoelie, former leader of the white supremacist group called "Boot Boys," had been convicted of violating Norway's so-called "anti-racism paragraph" when he launched an anti-Jewish and anti-immigrant tirade. The right-wing extremist had claimed during a public demonstration that, roughly translated, "every day, our people are being plundered and destroyed by Jews who suck our land empty of wealth and replace it with immoral and un-Norwegian thoughts." He also claimed that "immigrants rob, rape and kill Norwegians every day."

    A lower court ruled that his claims violated Norway's anti-racism law. It calls for fines or a jail term of up to two years for those who make claims that spread hate or make threats against others on the basis of religion, race, skin color or national or ethnic background. The Supreme Court disagreed. A majority of 11 high court judges determined that Sjoelie's remarks weren't punishable. They noted that the remarks didn't contain any concrete threats. The head of Norway's Anti-Racism Center, Nadeem Butt, was shocked by the decision. She equated it to an attack on the rights of minorities in Norway. "The majority didn't even consider how offensive the claim was for Norwegian Jews," she said, regretting that since neo-Nazi groups are legal, the court rules their propaganda is, too. She claimed the court decision "has moved the barriers" for how offensive people can be against ethnic groups in Norway.

    They are the forgotten people, persecuted throughout history, murdered in their hundreds of thousands by the Nazis, seen as second-class citizens in much of eastern Europe. And soon the countries that treat them worst will be our EU partners. Gary Younge investigates the plight of the Roma

    The Kolompars were excited. With a baby on the way, an 18-month-old infant in arms and a key in hand, Karoly and Erzsebet were heading to a new home in the village of Nemetker, in rural Hungary. Their previous house, in the nearby town of Paks on the banks of the Danube, had been destroyed in a storm several months before. After some weeks in a tent and then temporary accommodation, they were being relocated. The roadside sign as they left Paks said "See You Again". As the Kolompars drove towards their new home, they had no idea quite how soon that would be. For as they rolled into town, a reception committee of residents was there to meet them. Every route was blocked by a mob of angry locals, telling the young Roma couple to go back to India and that they were not welcome. The demonstration had been encouraged by the mayor, who had told the local people not to sell their flats and houses to the Roma. "We were told that if we go there they would burn the house down," says Karoly. "Since all the streets were closed we thought it was better that we didn't go and we turned back." To make sure he didn't change his mind, villagers set about demolishing the home. By the time police arrived, the roof was seriously damaged and the doors and windows destroyed.

    So the Kolompars stand in a small settlement on the outskirts of Paks with five or six other Roma families who were also displaced by the storm. Pal Solt has just finished the school run in a minibus recently loaned from the council. Now they are displaced, school is several miles away for some. "Before then some children went to school and some didn't, depending on whose parents could or would take them and whose could or would not." It is dusk, and each toddler boasts a runny nose and a halo of frantic midges. Women, balancing children on their hips, pull their cardigans in against the cold - the homes in which they have been placed have electricity but no heating and only a standpipe in the far corner for water. "We didn't expect this kind of treatment from the people here," says one woman. "Things were never easy, but they were never this bad. But now when they see us they tell us to go back to India. Maybe we should. It might be better and it can't be much worse. It's like Roma is a word they have stamped on our forehead."

    At about the same time as the Kolompars were hounded out of town, all eyes in Hungary, as elsewhere in eastern Europe, were on Ireland, where the second referendum on EU enlargement was taking place. The first had been rejected in 2001, placing a final and unpredictable obstacle in the path of 75 million citizens seeking passage from eastern Europe, Cyprus and Malta to the bosom of the European Union. "They were watching the votes come in constituency by constituency," says Bernard Rorke, head of the Roma participation programme of the George Soros-funded Open Society Institute. Ireland's yes vote ended a chapter of anxiety in eastern Europe's long-held desire to return to the global fold.

    The Kolompars did not even know the vote was taking place, yet the result may yet have a bigger impact on their lives than they will ever know. For the past few years the Hungarian government has been told that if it wishes to join the common European home then it will have to make sure that the Kolompars, and millions like them, can get into a home of their choice. Respect for minority rights in general, and the treatment of Roma in particular, has been a central issue in the process of accession. The same message has gone out to the Czech and Slovak governments, who are set to join the EU next year, as well as the Romanians and Bulgarians, who hope to join in 2007. Farm subsidies, corruption, crime, human trafficking and human-rights issues have all been high on the agenda during negotiations between the EU and candidate countries over the terms of accession.

    But in terms of moral imperative, a human tragedy and a continent's shame, the treatment of the Roma, Europe's largest and fastest-growing ethnic minority, stands out. The fact that the Kolompars are still out in the cold gives some indication of how bad things still are. Roma children are routinely placed in schools for the "mentally disabled", unemployment rates stand at over 70% and housing segregation is as pervasive as popular prejudice and official discrimination. Polls show that 91% of Czechs have "negative views" towards the Roma. The former Slovak prime minister, Vladimir Meciar, once stated that: "Slovaks produce first-rate values, Roma only themselves." A survey of Hungarian police officers revealed that 54% believe criminality to be a key element of the Roma identity, and all but 4% of those believed it to be genetic.

    Their ethnicity effectively defines them as an underclass. It's as though Jim Crow was kicked out of America's deep south in the 60s only to land in central Europe at the start of the 21st century. But the fact that their plight is even on the international agenda is an indication of how much has changed and might yet still change. "It has it has been of genuine significance that the EU has made minority protection a main plank of its enlargement policy," says a report by the OSI. "The prospect of accession has brought criticism, money and an awareness in eastern Europe, that someone out there is watching," says Claude Cahn, director of research and publications at the European Roma Rights Centre, based in Budapest.

    The journey from the Indian subcontinent to eastern Europe made by many Roma has been a long and hard one. "Linguistic evidence suggests that Gypsies originated in the Punjab," writes Zoltan Barany in his recent book, East European Gypsies. "They left perhaps as early as the sixth century and probably due to repeated incursions by Islamic warriors." They came through Persia, Armenia and Byzantium, reaching Europe sometime around the late 13th or early 14th century, settling mostly in the east. Their inequality has followed them to their graves. Nobody knows how many were murdered during the Roma holocaust, although estimates have ranged from 200,000 to 1.5 million. The Nazis murdered them but did not fight over them. "They were deemed so marginal that their murder provoked no intra-agency rivalries and thus required no written authorisation," wrote Henry Friedlander in The Origins of Nazi Genocide. Since the survivors were deprived of education and status, there is little in the way of diaries or memoirs to keep the experience in the public domain. Under communism, their ethnic difference was denied in the interests of assimilation; under capitalism it has been persecuted in the name of chauvinism.

    Today, at around 12 million (no reliable hard figures exist), the Roma population is roughly the size of Switzerland, Norway and Luxembourg combined. Dispersed all over Europe, but mostly settled in the east, they make up 10% of Slovaks, 8% of Bulgarians, 6% of Romanians, 5% of Hungarians and 2% of Czechs, with smaller populations in Slovenia and Poland. One of the two most popular misconceptions about the Roma is that nomadism is in trinsic to their culture. The truth is that while they are scattered, they are also settled. "The majority of east European Roma - especially in Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and the former Yugoslavia - have been sedentary for centuries," writes Barany. The other misconception is that they comprise a homogenous group. Like any diaspora they have been heavily influenced by the places they have settled. In Macedonia the vast majority speak Romani; in Hungary 80% speak only Hungarian. Religion is an important aspect of the Romani culture, but precisely which faith is shaped more by geography than ethnicity - most Roma in Croatia are Catholic, in Bosnia Muslim and in Serbia Orthodox. Many, particularly in eastern Europe, have the skin tone of an Indian or a Sri Lankan - others, like two blond-haired children at the settlement in Paks, are functionally white. Some in the Roma community even dispute that India is the common homeland. Yet for all that, the Roma bear the crucial test for a meaningful identity - they know who one another are, and everybody else knows who they are too. The Roma are as able to discriminate between themselves and a gadje (non-Roma) as the state and civil society are to discriminate against them.

    The European Commission has now set a date (May 2004) for its largest and most problematic expansion to date. Like so many of the major developments in the EU, the process of enlargement currently under way is underpinned by a sense of inevitability that masks an underlying and deep-seated fragility. While Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Cyprus and Malta have been accepted, referendums notwithstanding, huge obstacles remain. The gross domestic product of all the candidate countries combined is roughly the same as that of Spain. One nation alone, Poland, has more people employed in agriculture than the rest of the EU put together. Six months before the new countries are due to join there will be a survey to see whether they have made sufficient progress in key areas, including treatment of the Roma.

    Everyone acknowledges that the issue will not be a deal-breaker. "It is a problem, but it has not decisively influenced our decision on the readiness of the candidate countries to join the EU," says Jean-Christophe Filori, a spokesman on enlargement at the European Commission. Roma activists and their advocates believe this is as it should be. "We have never argued that it should be a barrier," says Cahn. "An isolated Slovakia outside the EU would look even worse for Roma."

    Given the appalling manner in which Roma are treated within EU member states, there is a paradox in them setting the standard - particularly given the huge rise in the hard right. At Prague airport stands the British consular office set up specifically to stop Czech Roma coming to the United Kingdom. In July 2001 two undercover Czech TV reporters exposed the routine discrimination when they turned up at the airport with tickets to Britain, the same amount of money and giving the same information. The Roma journalist wasn't allowed on the plane; his non-Roma colleague was allowed on. "Skin colour is of major importance" in the decisions by British authorities about whether certain Czech citizens should travel, said the Czech Republic's cultural minister last July. Canada has accepted 70% of Czech Roma seeking asylum; Britain won't even let them visit without a fight, let alone apply for refugee status.

    So it is not so much a love of the Roma as a fear of them that has prompted the EU to advocate their rights. In 18 months' time, when the 10 candidate countries finally join, the right to free movement throughout the other 15 wealthier nations will be extended to all their citizens. That includes the Roma. Britain and others will no longer be able to deport them. So they want to do everything they can to improve their lot now, in the nations where they live, in the hope that a better-educated, housed, employed and less harassed Roma population would be less likely to leave.

    In the small town of Mimon, 150km northwest of Prague, where one-fifth of the population is Roma and 98% of these are unemployed, a small exodus is already under way. "In the past two months 40 families left from here for Great Britain and Ireland," says Emilie Horackova, a Roma activist. "And others are getting ready." After an afternoon of vodka and sausage, her husband, Dusan Ziga, shouts: "We need Martin Luther King." But given the fractured nature of Roma politics, it is difficult to see where either a leader or a unified movement would come from. There are several Roma organisations in different countries and some that are international, but none that commands the undisputed authority of those it seeks to represent and few that work together.

    Given the intensity of discrimination, particularly in education, few have the confidence or the resources to assume leadership positions. Given the limited scope for internal pressure, Roma activists regard the time between now and accession in May 2004 as a period in which considerable leverage can be applied. Since the desire of eastern European nations to join the EU is stronger than their habit of discriminating against the Roma, government leaders have been, for the most part, anxious to show willing. They have signed up to nearly all the major international minority-rights treaties and use the EU council's race-equality directive as a template. Among other things, since 1997, the Czech government has initiated an anti-racism campaign, established an advisory body on Roma issues, changed laws relating to citizenship and access to education and employed many Romani advisers and assistants in schools and the civil service. Hungary has established an ombudsman to monitor the implementation of minority rights, while Slovakia has similarly established an institutional framework to oversee its "strategy" for addressing Roma issues.

    But the progress has often been more symbolic than substantial. Many of the bodies are either advisory or lack the resources to be effective. In its report on Slovakia's progress in 2000, the EU commission noted "a gap between policy formulation and implementation on the ground". "All too commonly," concludes the Soros-backed report, "political leaders have not demonstrated determination or committed the financial resources necessary to guarantee effective implementation of minority standards and programmes." The EU points to the complexity of the problem as a warning to those who are looking for any quick evidence of substantial progress. "This problem is not the result of some apartheid in the candidate countries," says Filori. "The discrimination is not legally inserted into constitutions. They are far more complex issues involving social discrimination and cultural heritage."

    Filori has a point. While there are no longer laws that promote racism, there is insufficient will or power to promote anti-racism. Roma in eastern Europe do not so much fall foul of the law of the land as the law of probabilities. It is the dead weight of institutional discrimination at every level of society and at almost every stage of their life that is pervasive and persistent. Statistics on education and employment show how overwhelmingly the odds are stacked against them. In the Czech Republic, 75% of Roma children are educated in schools for people with learning difficulties, and 70% are unemployed (compared with a national rate of 9%). In Hungary, 44% of Roma children are in special schools, while 74% of men and 83% of women are unemployed. In Slovakia, Roma children are 28 times as likely to be sent to a special school than non-Roma; Roma unemployment stands at 80%. Whatever national initiatives may prevail, it is practices and prejudices that are acted upon every day at a local and social level that have the most chilling impact. The infamous concrete wall built in the Czech town of Ustinad Labem in the Czech Republic, with the help of an 80-strong police escort, to separate Roma from their "white" neighbours; the expulsion of Roma families from their homes in Zamoly, Hungary, by the local council; the assertion of the mayor of Mendez in Slovakia that "I am no racist ... but some Gypsies you would have to shoot." Economic and political developments in eastern Europe since the fall of the Berlin wall have been volatile and precipitous, but racist cultures are more stubborn and enduring.

    It is eviction day for the Bajzas, and the family of four have their lives in boxes in the Czech town of Mimon. Jan, the father, stands clutching the papers, cross-eyed and confused, as two fly papers crammed full of dead flies, sway in breeze above him. Despite being unemployed they had kept up with the council rent on their flat of formica and linoleum. But the council want them out anyway. The lawyer from the Prague-based NGO told him not to sign it, but when left to face the council on his own, Jan felt he had little choice. And now the family, including two young girls under five is about to be moved to a shelter on the outskirts of town. Hidden down a coal path and opposite a huge silo, they are out of sight and, hope the local authorities, out of mind also.

    The shelter is sparsely and poorly furnished - a double room in a draughty place that will soon be home to the four of them. When Jan signed the letter, he says, he was told he could take his furniture with him; now the council has changed its mind. Nor will it allow him to store it. His visible distress at the prospect of losing the threadbare sofa, old cabinet, a few old wooden chairs and an old table is a sign of how few possessions the family has. But by the afternoon the battle is lost. During the local-election campaign that is taking place around him, one party has named its priorities as "preventing problematic families from moving into the town by all legal means" and the ending of "reverse racism". Together they are code for kicking out Gypsies and ending attempts at establishing equal opportunities. And sure enough, the local council official tells Jan: "You people have enough already and are always asking for me and causing problems." Jan is left with just a few hours to see if he can place his furniture with friends. It is this kind of ritual, grinding humiliation, whether looking for jobs, going to school or just walking the street, that compounds the violent exclusion of Paks. Daily reminders that their very presence is an affront which will at best be tolerated.

    Back at home on the other side of town the sausage and vodka await Emilie Jorackova's return. As a local activist, she accompanied Jan to the council and has, not surprisingly, returned dispirited. We are discussing a recent article which argued that Roma are inherently more sensitive and artistic than other ethnic groups and whether the Roma are essentially any different to anyone else, save the acquired attributes of history, culture and discrimination that make them so. And then the conversation sprawls beyond Europe's borders to Rwanda, Zimbabwe or Israel - places where people who have been persecuted have started discriminating against others as soon as they had the opportunity.

    "Would the Roma be any different, if the tables were turned?" I ask. And then Emilie sighs. Not from boredom, as I first imagined, but from the weariness of holding on to what Langston Hughers referred to as "a dream deferred". Because the tables aren't turned. They have remained exactly where they were these past centuries, leaving little scope for utopian theories of humanism. "It is difficult to believe in humanity," she says, "when 99% of the people here treat us as they do 100% of the time."
    ©The Guardian

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